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Watchdog: FBI must improve gun sale checks after one that led to Denver school closings

The DOJ inspector general review comes after a Florida woman who was obsessed with the Columbine mass shooting flew to Denver and bought a shotgun in 2019.
Rifles are for sale at a gun shop in Merrimack, N.H., on November 5, 2016.Dominick Reuter / AFP via Getty Images

The FBI must upgrade its system for conducting background checks on gun buyers to avoid repeating illegal sales like the one that led hundreds of Colorado schools to close or lock down in 2019, the Justice Department's inspector general said in a new report.

Members of Congress asked Inspector General Michael Horowitz to conduct a review after an 18-year-old woman from Florida flew to the state just before the 20th anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Columbine. Shortly after arriving in Denver, the woman, Sol Pais, bought a 12-gauge shotgun and ammunition.

Alerted by police in Miami that she was obsessed with Columbine and had made threats toward area schools, authorities in Colorado launched an immediate search, considering her armed and dangerous. Dozens of schools in the Denver area were closed or locked down.

Pais was found the next day, dead of an apparent self-inflicted shotgun wound, police said.

The gun sale should never had gone through, Horowitz said in the report, released Thursday. Federal law requires that an out-of-state buyer must be legally qualified to purchase a firearm in two states — the state where the gun store is and the buyer's home state. The minimum age to buy a shotgun in Colorado was 18, but it was 21 in her home state.

Florida changed its law in 2018, shortly after the shooting rampage at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Colorado dealer did not check to see what the law was in Florida, and the state's query to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, did not pick up the disparity either, the report said.

The system "does not automatically verify out-of-state purchaser's eligibility for firearms purchases under the age requirement of their state of residence," the inspector general said. If a dealer makes a mistake, "NICS does not have an automatic check to identify the error."

Rep. Joe Neguse, a Colorado Democrat who was among the lawmakers asking for the review, called the 2019 incident "deeply frightening,"

"We must ensure that our state's background checks are as effective as they can be and that the proper steps are being taken to stop this from happening again," he said.

The report said the FBI agreed to begin considering possible changes to the NICS system to catch age disparities.