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Mistakes in Dylann Roof's Background Check Fuel Gun Law Debate

Dylann Roof should not have been allowed to buy the gun he allegedly used to kill nine people in a Charleston church, the FBI said Friday.
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The errors that led to accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof purchasing a gun even though he faced drug charges fueled both sides of the debate over stricter gun laws Friday.

On Wednesday, two days before the FBI said Roof should not have been allowed to buy the gun he allegedly used to gun down nine church parishioners, those victims’ families rallied on Capitol Hill for a bill that would expand background checks on would-be gun buyers.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said Friday that the bill, H.R. 1217, could have prevented the missteps, including a background check oversight, which allowed Roof to acquire the weapon.

"Dylann Roof’s arrest on a drug charge, combined with his admission of prior drug use, should have prevented him from buying a gun, and it’s a tragedy that is not what happened. This news underscores the urgency of the message that Charleston families and the Brady Campaign took to Capitol Hill this week," said Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign.

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One of the problems that led to Roof's gun purchase was that a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) examiner couldn't find the jurisdiction where Roof had been arrested on the drug charges.

Since the NICS system was mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched in 1998, it has blocked more than 2.4 million illegal gun sales, according to the organization Everytown for Gun Safety.

But the Brady Campaign wants to see it do more, and they say H.R. 1217, which according to the bill would "ensure maximum coordination and automation of reporting of records," can prevent even more illegal gun sales from taking place.

But Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research said "it’s hard to say whether H.R. 1217 could have prevented mistakes of this type" because the bill focuses more on documenting court records than arrest records.

"That said, there is a public safety interest in improving these records for background checks for gun sales," Webster added.

H.R. 1217 would also expand background checks to cover gun sales made online and at gun shows, according to the Brady Center.

Regardless of the depth or scope of background checks, current gun sale laws only mandate a three-day period for the checks to be conducted. Roof was sold a gun after the NICS examiner couldn't find the origin of his drug charges within those three days.

"The scary issue brought to light by this is just how faulty the 72-hour 'default proceed' is," said Garrett McDonough, the Communications Director for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

"Inefficiencies or lack of time and resources leads to criminals and other dangerous people being able to purchase guns and, in this case, kill innocent people," McDonough said.

On the other side of the stricter gun laws argument, some don't think the existing system needs improvement. After the FBI said Friday that Roof should not have been able to buy the .45-caliber Glock handgun in question, Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that the failure didn't stem from a lack of regulations.

"It’s disastrous that this bureaucratic mistake prevented existing laws from working and blocking an illegal gun sale," Grassley said in a statement. "The facts undercut attempts to use the tragedy to enact unnecessary gun laws."

Others who don't want stricter gun laws might use Roof's illegal purchase of a gun to argue that NICS doesn't work and therefore shouldn't be expanded, Webster said.

"But on an average day, 526 people are denied from purchasing firearms because of the laws," he said. "The more comprehensive the system is in terms of covering all sales, the more types of records are checked and ... the more effective (it is) in keeping guns from dangerous people and saving lives."