Joe Cunningham HR 1112

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, calls for U.S. Senators to take action Friday, March 1, 2019 after the House of Representatives passed a pair of gun reform measures this week. One of the bills seeks to close the so-called "Charleston loophole," a glitch in the law that allowed Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof to purchase a gun when an FBI background check took more than three days to complete. Caitlin Byrd/Staff

In a week when Congress passed the most sweeping gun control legislation in a generation, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham urged the Senate to take up a bill to close the so-called "Charleston loophole" that allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun used in the Emanuel AME Church murders.

The legislation, which passed the Democratic-controlled House mostly along party lines Thursday, seeks to extend the length of FBI background checks for gun purchases from three days to 10.

"For four long years, you all have spoken up. You've called. You've marched. You've prayed. And you've made your voices heard," Cunningham, D-Charleston, said Friday.

"And I'm here today proud to say that we listened. This week, instead of greeting you with thoughts and prayers, we met you with action," he said.

Cunningham called the bipartisan bill "pragmatic" and pushed back on the idea that the legislation would infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners.

"I have a firearm. I've got my concealed weapons permit. I respect and believe in the Second Amendment. I'm speaking as a responsible gun owner that wants responsible gun safety measures," Cunningham said.

The bill faces an uphill fight. Republicans control the Senate and have said they won't vote on the pair of gun control bills.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the Senate Judiciary chairman and close ally of the president, told Politico this week he has no plans to take up the gun bills. He made the statement Tuesday, two days before the bill to close the Charleston loophole passed.

Asked Friday if Graham had changed his position since the bill passed the House, his office responded with an all-caps: "NO."

President Trump also has promised to veto the gun control measures if they make it to his desk.

Cunningham referenced U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., as potential help in getting the bill through the Republican-controlled Senate.

Scott, who knew some of the Charleston church shooting victims, frequently talks about how the shooting affected him personally and politically. He also highlighted those experiences in a book he co-wrote with former South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy.

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Scott's office confirmed that he had a brief conversation about the legislation with Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, the bill's primary sponsor. 

"Sen. Scott has not seen the bill," Ken Farnaso, Scott's press secretary, said Friday.

This week, Scott and Graham weighed in on the gun control debate by sending a letter Thursday to U.S. Attorney General William Barr. It requested  an update on the implementation of the Fix NICS Act, a background check law passed in the wake of the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is used to determine eligibility for firearm purchases.

Cunningham said he is undeterred, pointing out that Trump hasn't vetoed any bills so far.

Though Roof had an arrest record for drug use — a prohibiting factor that should have barred him from buying a firearm — he was able to purchase a .45-caliber Glock when his FBI background check was not completed within the FBI's three-day deadline.

Since then, the default approval has come to be known as the "Charleston loophole."

Roof used the pistol two months later to kill the nine people during an Emanuel AME Bible study, including the state Sen. and Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.