House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said Thursday he has the votes to pass his bill closing the federal background check loophole that allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he should never have been able to get.

Standing in the sanctuary of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church — the historic worship house where Roof gunned down nine black parishioners in a 2015 hate crime — the South Carolina Democrat said he refused to let society become numb to the proliferation of mass shootings. 

Charleston's tragedy, Clyburn promised, will not go unanswered.

"We gonna pass this bill within the next several days," he said, eliciting the only applause during a reverential 35-minute press conference inside the church.

The announcement did not contain the usual markings of a press conference, aside from the row of cameras sitting on tripods along one of the aisles. No one clapped as more than 10 supporters, including former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and the church's lead pastor, the Rev. Eric Manning, spoke at a podium one by one.

Instead, the roughly 75 people who sat in the pews listening to each call to action responded with the occasional, "Amen."

The bill, which has bipartisan support, seeks to extend the review period for the FBI to complete its background checks for gun purchases from three days to 10 days. 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 three-day deadline.

The crack in the law would come to be known as the "Charleston loophole."

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

Fellow South Carolina Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham joined Clyburn as a co-sponsor of the bill, along with Republican Rep. Peter King of New York. As a freshman, Cunningham said closing the Charleston loophole is a campaign promise he intends to keep.

"As the years pass by, it's become more evident that if we change nothing, nothing will change," he said. "This is our step to make a change."

While the proposal is not expected to get through the Republican-controlled Senate — much less become law — pushing the measure through the House would be a political win for Democrats who have long-promised to advance gun control measures. The House vote is slated for next week.

Clyburn said after the event he is often asked why he pushes forward bills like this that stand little to no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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"I do these things on faith — the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. And so, it's my hope, though I may not see it, but it is my hope that we get this done," Clyburn said, reiterating that he has been speaking with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. 

Clyburn said when the bill passes the House with bipartisan support that it will send a strong message to the Senate.

As the press conference unfolded, Charleston Police Deputy Chief Jerome Taylor stood watch in the balcony.

Taylor was one of the first police officers to arrive at Emanuel on the night of the shooting. He said he was about three blocks away when the call came over his radio.

"Most of the people in there, I knew," he said. He said he supports the idea of giving law enforcement more time to complete a background check.

Manning, who has been the church's lead pastor since June 2016, said the reality is that the church has been forever changed since the shooting. Security guards, he said, are always on site in a place where he said no one should ever feel unsafe.

"One of the fruits of the spirit is patience," Manning said. "Now, we must bear those fruits of patience when it come to completing background checks for the purchase of firearms."

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.

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