The House just passed a bill to close the loophole that let Dylann Roof get his gun

The "Charleston loophole" allows a prospective gun buyer to walk away with his gun after three business days, even if the background check hasn't been completed.
February 28, 2019, 6:39pm
House lawmakers just passed a bill to close the so-called “Charleston loophole."

House lawmakers just passed a bill to close the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the .45-caliber handgun that he ultimately used to kill nine black parishioners at a historic South Carolina church in 2015.

Under current federal law, a prospective gun buyer can walk away with their gun after three business days, even if the background check hasn’t been completed, in what’s known as the “default proceed.” The bill that passed the House on Thursday, called “The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019,” extends the waiting period to 10 days. If the background check hasn’t gone through after the initial 10-day period, a prospective gun buyer can request an expedited review, which gives the FBI another 10 days to complete the check.

The bipartisan bill passed largely along party lines, with a vote of 228-198. It’s the second gun control bill passed by the House’s new Democratic majority in just one week — as well as the second major piece of gun control legislation in more than 25 years. (Democrats assumed control of the House following the fall midterm elections for the first time in eight years). The bill had 14 Democrat co-sponsors and just one Republican co-sponsor: Rep. Peter King, a moderate who has long advocated for expanding background checks.

“It is long past time we closed the Charleston loophole and gave law enforcement the time necessary to make sure dangerous people don’t end up with deadly weapons they are prohibited from obtaining,” said Rep. Joe Cunningham, a Democrat from South Carolina and one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill.

Roof, who was 21 at the time of the mass shooting, was arrested for drug possession earlier in 2015. His admission of the drug crime should have automatically flagged his gun purchase for rejection. But the offense was improperly entered into the database that the FBI uses to vet prospective gun buyers. The FBI had requested more information about the charge, but after three days had lapsed, Roof was able to obtain the gun through the “default proceed."

Roof’s ability to purchase a handgun drew new scrutiny on the thoroughness of the federal background check process, and gun control advocates said three days wasn’t a sufficient period to accommodate for the possibility of clerical errors, like in Roof’s case.

“Default proceed” sales are eight times more likely to involve a prohibited purchaser than those with a completed background check, according to analysis of gun sales by Brady (formerly called the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence).

“The Charleston shooting illustrated the tragic absurdity of allowing people to bypass a background check if the review of their application isn’t completed within three days,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, another gun control advocacy group, in a statement.

On Wednesday, House lawmakers passed the first of the two gun control bills, which took aim at what’s known as the “gun show loophole.” That bill, which also passed along partisan lines despite having five Republican co-sponsors, requires background checks on all gun sales, including over the internet and at gun shows.

Neither piece of legislation is expected to pass the Senate, which has a Republican majority. The White House has also signaled that President Donald Trump would veto the bills because the expanded background checks would put an unnecessary burden on gun owners.

Cover image: In this June 18, 2015, file photo, a group of women pray together at a makeshift memorial on the sidewalk in front of the Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, S.C.(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)