More than 2,000 days have passed since a white supremacist slaughtered nine people in the basement classroom at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston during a Tuesday night Bible study. Yet, our federal government has done nothing to fix the legal lapse that let a murderous racist buy the gun used to take those lives. Nine lives. Countless families and friends affected. Two thousand days. Zero action from Congress.
It’s past time to change that: Close the Charleston loophole.
Just as U.S. Rep. James Clyburn did days after the massacre, he has again introduced a bill to strengthen federal background checks that could have prevented the purchase of the pistol used at Mother Emanuel that violent night.
Current federal gun check laws allow sales to go through if the FBI has not completed a buyer’s background check within three days. That’s how Dylann Roof got his gun, despite the fact that a simple check would have flagged his purchase. Clyburn’s bill would extend the waiting period to 10 days — a policy fix that responsible gun owners endorse.
Clyburn’s proposal represents basic, emergency reform to the 27-year-old National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) — crafted before mainstream adoption of the internet, when “instant” meant three business days. Not surprisingly, it was the National Rifle Association that pushed for a shorter waiting period in hopes that the technology requirements for such a fast turnaround would cripple the law.
That three-day waiting period remains the law of the land, and more than 75,000 guns have been sold to prohibited buyers as a result of the Charleston loophole, according to Clyburn.
In South Carolina, guns are more popular than ever. In 2020 — amid a pandemic, protests and a presidential election — the federal NICS system processed 530,930 background checks in South Carolina. That’s a 62% increase from 2019 and a 400% increase from 2001. In January alone, bookended by the disastrous Capitol rebellion and Biden’s inauguration, 52,622 background checks were completed for S.C. gun sellers, according to the FBI. Another 40,032 last month.
As Congress considers Clyburn’s proposal, leaders in other states have taken matters into their own hands. Lawmakers in Oregon and Virginia have each advanced legislation to ban gun sales altogether without background checks.
But at the South Carolina Statehouse, lawmakers will likely spend this week tripping over themselves to make it easier for people to strap guns to their hips. Republicans have even filed measures to nullify federal attempts to strengthen gun checks.
Meanwhile, legislation by Democratic S.C. Sens. Marlon Kimpson and Gerald Malloy to close the Charleston loophole have been voted down in past years.
Try as they may, South Carolina ideologues are swimming against the current.
“A large majority of Americans, including gun owners, support universal background checks,” Clyburn said, announcing his new bill last week. “This legislation is needed to keep weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them and save lives.”
In the coming weeks, South Carolina Republicans in Washington should join Clyburn to cast votes to end the madness and save lives to curb mass killings like the one almost six years ago in Charleston.