Ever since Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and gunned down nine Black parishioners in 2015, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn has been trying to institute gun reforms to prevent another such tragedy.
Over the last five years, the Democratic House Majority Whip has introduced a bill to close the so-called "Charleston loophole" multiple times. Clyburn and supporters of the effort say if the government had extended the length of time for background checks on guns, Roof wouldn't have been able to buy a weapon, given his criminal history.
On March 2, Clyburn, D-S.C., introduced the bill for the fourth time. With a Democratic-controlled House, Senate and President Joe Biden in the White House, it could present the most favorable odds for the effort to finally pass into law.
“Enacting common-sense gun control measures is a priority for President Biden and this Democratic Congress, and this legislation is a good first step,” Clyburn said. “This legislation is needed to keep weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them and save lives.”
Under current law, commercial firearms transactions cannot proceed until a background check clears. But if it’s not completed within three days the government can go ahead with the transfer.
Clyburn's bill would give law enforcement 10 days to complete a background check before a gun can be purchased instead of three days. If the review is not completed within the timeframe, the purchaser could request a faster review to start an FBI investigation.
The bill has seen some movement in recent years but has ultimately been stonewalled.
A version of the loophole bill, introduced by Clyburn and then-U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, passed the Democrat-controlled House in February 2019 on a 228-198 vote. But it sat idle and ultimately died in the Republican-controlled Senate.
A second attempt to include it in a police reform bill in 2020 also fell flat.
The “Enhanced Background Checks Act” introduced by Clyburn is already seeing support. The bill has 60 co-sponsors in the House, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is introducing companion legislation in the Senate.
The National Rifle Association, a gun-rights advocacy group, has been a staunch opponent of measures to close the “Charleston loophole,” as well as other reforms on background checks. Critics of the bill say it is an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
“The Charleston case would not have been prevented by lengthening the three day proceed to sale provision,” a post on the gun lobby’s website states. “To the contrary, doing so would result in arbitrary delays affecting the rights of millions of people every year and make it more difficult for law-abiding Americans to defend themselves and their families.”
In 2015, Roof went to buy a gun legally, but the sale should not have gone through. He would have been prohibited from buying the weapon if his background check had found an arrest report indicating his drug use. However, since the background check went unfinished after the three-day waiting period, Roof was able to obtain a .45-caliber Glock handgun, which he used in the attack.
Former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, was also a major supporter of the bill before he lost his reelection bid to Republican U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace last year.
Unlike her Democratic predecessor, Mace said she doesn't support the measure to increase background check times. The freshman congresswoman said Roof was able to obtain a gun because of a clerical error in police data, and that it had nothing to do with the background check system.
Mace hopes to introduce her own bill which she believes addresses the issue.
“I support law enforcement’s ability to prevent bad guys from getting guns, but the gun control crowd has gotten this wrong," Mace said in a statement. "I plan on unveiling legislation with meaningful, problem-solving reforms that keep our community safe and does not place arbitrary time limits that harm law-abiding citizens and responsible gun owners.”
Clyburn's bill is expected to get voted on in the House next week.