Clyburn aims to close firearms loophole

A photo on a manifesto website allegedly created by Dylann Roof shows the .45-caliber Glock pistol he’s accused of using in a deadly June 17 attack at Emanuel AME Church.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn has introduced legislation that would stop retailers from selling firearms before a criminal background check on the buyer is finished — something that could have stopped accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof from obtaining a gun.

The Orangeburg Democrat drafted the bill, H.R. 3051, after the FBI revealed that Roof managed to buy a pistol in April at a West Columbia store despite his admission of drug use when he was arrested in February.

Roof is accused of using the gun he bought in April in the June 17 shooting at Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street in which nine parishioners died, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

His drug use should have halted him from getting a firearm under federal law, the FBI said.

On April 11, the shop initiated a check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, prompting an FBI agent to look into Roof’s arrest history. A clerical error before that, though, prevented the agent from quickly getting information on his arrest.

The agent saw Roof’s drug charge and inquired about it with South Carolina law agencies. But the arresting agency was incorrectly listed on his rap sheet as the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office instead of the Columbia Police Department.

The agent was still looking for the police report when Roof returned to the gun store April 16 and picked up the .45-caliber pistol. The background check on him was still pending. Though not required by law, stores can sell a firearm three business days after the check was started.

“Many large retailers exercise their discretion not to proceed until given a clear ‘yes,’” FBI Director James Comey said last week when he described how Roof got the gun, “but many other retailers conclude the transaction after the three business days even in the absence of a clear decision, which is what the law allows.”

Clyburn’s bill, introduced Tuesday in the U.S. House, would close the “procedural loophole” by requiring licensed dealers to wait until getting the go-ahead from the FBI, he said in a statement. Many retailers, including Wal-Mart, have already made it a standard practice, the congressman said.

“This should never be acceptable,” Clyburn said about Roof’s purchase. “My bill is a common sense fix to our nation’s gun laws, and I call on my colleagues in Congress to move it immediately towards passage.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.