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Clyburn: We need stronger gun laws to help prevent another Charleston church massacre

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Vicious and senseless killings of black men and women in this country are tragic injustices.

Unfortunately, they are not new stories.

As Americans, we must come to grips with the reality that the life experiences of black people in this nation have always been vastly different from those of white people, and it is incumbent on us to work together to repair the faults of this great nation.

Today, we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, where a gunman driven by white supremacy took the lives of Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie J. Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Vontrease Middleton, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. and Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson.

He was welcomed into their Bible study with open arms, and as they bowed their heads together in prayer, he murdered them in cold blood with a gun he should never have been able to get. While the man responsible for pulling the trigger languishes on death row, the system that allowed him to get that gun remains in place.

The U.S. House of Representatives has taken critical steps to restructure that system by strengthening our gun laws, but the need for these changes and their life-saving potential have been ignored by the Senate and actively opposed by the White House, putting gun industry profits before the people.

This is inexcusable.

Under existing law, the FBI has only three business days to complete a background check before a licensed gun dealer may lawfully transfer a firearm. This process, called “default proceed” by the FBI, is now more commonly known as the “Charleston loophole.” The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is the best defense we have to stop individuals who should not have guns from getting them. Yet, almost 40,000 firearms transfers to prohibited purchasers took place between 2008 and 2018 because of this loophole. For perspective, that’s an average of almost 10 firearm transfers to convicted felons, domestic abusers, fugitives from justice and other prohibited individuals every single day.

The shooter in Charleston should never have been able to access a firearm, but NICS is designed to emphasize expediency over thorough investigation to fulfill its obligation under the law.

Last year, within the first 100 days of the 116th Congress, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill — H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act — to address this deadly loophole, Giving the FBI more time to complete a background check before a gun can be transferred will save lives and protect public safety.

Let’s be clear: Over 90% of background checks are completed within minutes, and 97% are processed within three business days. However, given the volume of gun sales annually, hundreds of thousands of individual gun purchases, where the FBI needs more time to complete a background check, will become eligible to proceed after three business days. Such sales are 8 times more likely to involve a prohibited purchaser, a clear risk to public safety.

Why are President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making policy decisions that protect the rights of prohibited purchasers over supporting gun violence victims and the public good? Their inaction is enabling and arming those looking to act on their hate just like a gunman did at Mother Emanuel.

As you read this today, millions of Americans have taken to the streets to fight the plague of racism in our society — to bend that moral arc of our universe towards justice. The campaign to end the scourge of hate will take time, but we have within our power to disarm it. We, as leaders in America, can reform our corrupted justice systems and the gun laws that have made hate lethal.

An estimated 48,935 people have died from gun violence during the 475 days this legislation has languished in the Senate. While we do not know how many of those lives could have been saved by closing this loophole, we do know this: if we can save one life by fixing a broken system, it must be done.

We owe it to each other. We owe it to communities across the country. We owe it to the Emanuel Nine.

It has been five years since the massacre at Mother Emanuel took the lives of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight of his flock. President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell, will you act to save others from the same fate?

U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina represents District 6 in the House of Representatives. Kris Brown is president of the Brady gun violence prevention advocacy group.

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