The FBI announced Friday that Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old South Carolina man accused of killing nine Black people at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME church, should not have been able to purchase the gun used in the massacre.
A loophole in the background check allowed Roof to acquire the .45-caliber handgun, the New York Times reports. Roof, who was arrested in February and charged with possession of drugs, would have likely been denied if the flaw didn’t exist. The revelation has reignited a much-needed discussion about gun control and the effectiveness of background checks in America.
“We are all sick this happened,” FBI director James B. Comey said. “We wish we could turn back time.”
The fluke, the Times points out, isn’t exclusive to Roof’s case.
According to the New York Times:
Mr. Roof first tried to buy the gun on April 11, from a dealer in South Carolina. The F.B.I., which conducts background checks for gun sales, told the dealer not to proceed with the purchase because agents needed to do more investigating about Mr. Roof’s s criminal history.
Under federal law, the F.B.I. has three days to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to deny the purchase. If the bureau cannot come up with an answer, the purchaser can return to the dealer and buy the gun.
In the case of Mr. Roof, the F.B.I. failed to gain access to a police report in which he admitted to having been in possession of a controlled substance, which would have disqualified him from purchasing the weapon. His application not resolved within the three-day limit, he returned to store and was sold the gun.
Smaller stores around the nation are likely to sell a firearm within the three days if they don’t hear a word from the FBI. Walmart and other major retailers, however, will not. In Roof’s case, the accused gunman purchased the gun some 25 miles away from his home. He would later use it in the AME shooting that took the lives of nine people as they attended a prayer meeting, authorities said.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the platform used by the FBI to operate background checks, has presented issues before. Loopholes have been discovered in the past; in one case, a flaw allowed thousands who would normally be prohibited to legally purchase weapons.
The program is also based on a law that “relied on an outdated definition that applies only to those who are deemed mentally ill by a court,” NBC writes.