The gun lobby used to say all we needed to do about guns was to keep them out of the hands of bad guys. It said the federal background check was law aplenty to accomplish that.
Then Dylann Roof killed nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in 2015 with a gun he shouldn’t have been able to purchase, simply because time ran out before the background check was complete, and the gun lobby responded by saying federal bureaucrats needed to do their jobs. Never mind that local officials here in South Carolina dropped the ball, and the FBI doesn’t allow its bureaucrats to access its most comprehensive criminal database.
But reasonable people — including most gun owners — started questioning what we’ve come to know as the Charleston loophole. Why, we all asked, do we give police an arbitrary deadline to conduct background checks? That’s sort of like telling police they can’t arrest a suspect if they haven’t finished their investigation in three days.
And even if we have a deadline for background checks, why just three days? Why not a month? Or two weeks? Or five days, even?
Giving police five days to check state and federal records to see if that’s a bad guy who’s trying to buy a gun seems like the least lawmakers could do. And yet, as we’ve seen repeatedly in the Congress and here in our own Legislature, the least we can do is too much. Last month, a S.C. Senate panel declined to advance S.154, which gives police two extra days to complete the checks, even though that extension would have been repealed after two years.
Perhaps even more important than the extra two days is a provision in the bill to reduce the time police and court officials have to record criminal information in the database. Additionally, a committee of court and police officials would recommend ways to make the reporting system more accurate and efficient.
As disturbing as it is that senators won’t even consider temporarily extending the time for the check is the fact that, two years after it was initially proposed, lawmakers still haven’t acted on this part of the legislation. It is, sadly, more evidence of how beholden our lawmakers are to the most extreme elements of the gun lobby — the guys who give responsible gun owners (that is, most gun owners) a bad name.
Fortunately, there is hope, both that we might get some protection from bad guys buying guns and that the Legislature might assert its independence. Sen. Gerald Malloy has disentangled the two parts of the bill, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved S.640, which seeks to keep the criminal records up to date. It’s an obvious fix that should have been passed as soon as we found out about the problems police had accessing Dylann Roof’s criminal history.
Lawmakers at either the federal or the state level still need to give police more time to complete background checks — and they need to extend those checks to cover gun-show purchases — but this legislation at least will give police a better chance of spotting the bad guys in South Carolina. Lawmakers need to pass it. This year.