FBI confirms that Charleston shooter bought gun using background check loophole

If you ask Americans whether criminals and drug offenders should be able to buy guns, you’ll get answers — even from Republicans — that range from “Hell no” to “Wait, they can?”

Yes, they can.

Loopholes in the FBI’s background check system allow many who would otherwise be barred from purchasing guns to do so, according to the Bureau’s director, James Comey. Dylan Storm Roof, the alleged shooter in the recent Charleston massacre, falls into that category. Having previously admitted to drug possession, he should not have been able to buy a gun, but the FBI only has three days to conduct background checks on would-be gun buyers. A backlog of checks, combined with erring on the side of allowing the purchase, allows thousands of criminals who would otherwise be turned down to “legally” buy guns.

The FBI has also said that, although Roof had previously admitted to drug possession, that information was incorrectly entered into the Bureau’s database.

Semi Automatic Rifles via Shutterstock

Semi-automatic rifles, via Shutterstock

While Roof’s uncle initially said the gun Roof used in the shooting was a gift for his 21st birthday, local officials maintain that he bought the gun directly, using money given to him for his birthday. In the latter version of that story, his purchase would have been blocked by the Manchin-Toomey background check bill that was filibustered in the Senate in 2013. However, that bill contained exemptions for family members that would make the first version of the purchase legal even with Manchin-Toomey on the books.

As The New York Times notes, cases like these are nothing new:

After a 2007 shooting in which 33 people died at Virginia Tech University, investigators discovered that the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, also should not have been able to buy a gun because a court had previously declared him to be a danger to himself.

America goes through consistent — and more frequent — cycles of allowing criminals to buy guns; saying heartfelt, somber things when they kill large numbers of innocent people; and proceeding to do absolutely nothing in order to make sure there are fewer next times. Legislation as simple and non-controversial as closing loopholes in existing laws has become impossible because a handful of gun manufacturers have decided that it shouldn’t be difficult to sell guns to people society has already deemed dangerous.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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