Dylann Roof, the gunman behind the racially motivated attack against a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina last month, should never have been allowed to buy a weapon.
FBI director James Comey said that due to a background check error, Roof’s purchase was able slip through the cracks pointing to existing flaws in America’s background check system.
Roof admitted to a drug possession that by national gun control laws should have automatically disqualified him from obtaining a weapon yet because the information was not properly submitted in time Roof was sold the gun.
FBI has three days to gather enough evidence to deny a potential gun buyer the purchase. During Roof’s three-day investigation, FBI was unable to access the police report in which Roof admitted to the drug possession. Confusion surrounding the location of Roof’s arrest stalled the FBI’s ability to retrieve the arrest record efficiently.
According to federal law, if the agency cannot provide sufficient evidence in those three days, the potential buyer can return to the gun dealer and buy the weapon — which is exactly what happened in Roof’s case.
"We are all sick that this has happened. This case rips all our hearts out," Comey said. "We wish we could turn back time."
This particular case of background check flaws, however, is not unique to just Roof. The New York Times reports that loopholes in the National Instant Background Check System have occurred before. One such loophole allowed thousands of prohibited buyers to legally buy firearms over the past decade, and many of those guns were used in crimes. This loophole again stems from the three-day evaluation period that allowed Roof to so easily obtain a gun.
As the Atlantic notes, another egregious error occurred when Seung-Hui Cho, the man responsible for the mass killing of 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, purchased a gun despite being barred from possessing a weapon after a court declared him a danger to himself.
While the assumption remains that a human gaffe has trumped gun control laws' effectiveness, the real problem seems to derive from the inefficacy of our current gun control laws to better determine and stop guns from ending up in the wrong hands. As more Americans support better background checks, we have to understand and advocate for tighter restrictions and more thorough oversight as even more necessary so errors like this one don't go from mistake to tragedy.