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The FBI May Have Been Able To Stop the Charleston Church Shooter From Buying The Gun He Used

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People around the country have wondered how Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was able to buy an AR-15-style assault rifle and a handgun, or how the San Bernadino killers obtained Smith & Wesson assault rifles and handguns. A Department of Justice investigation has just found that, Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old man charged with the 2015 Charleston church shooting, may have been prevented from buying the firearm he committed the murders with if he hadn't slipped through the cracks of FBI background checks.

On June 17, 2015, Roof, who is white, killed nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in a racially-motivated mass killing. Two months prior, Roof purchased the gun used in the slayings from a dealer in West Columbia, S.C. According to BuzzFeed News, he was allowed to buy a .45-caliber handgun, despite having a “prohibiting incident report” on his record.

A Department of Justice audit revealed that this “prohibiting incident,” which charged Roof with drug possession, was only documented on the National Data Exchange (N-DEX). N-DEX is separate from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the system normally used by the FBI for deciding who should be allowed to buy guns.

This reveals an unfortunate break in the system. Roof could have been denied purchase of the gun because he admitted in a police report to possession of controlled substances. Instead, the police report was not documented in the NICS. Although the NICS examiner sent a request to the Lexington County prosecutor for a police report, the office did not respond within the three-day waiting period for the background check.

Roof, counted among the “exceedingly low” amount of people who slip through the background check system, was therefore able to purchase the weapon he eventually used at the Charleston Church. According to BuzzFeed, an FBI audit following the shooting showed that the FBI “appropriately followed its processes in 375 of” 384 firearms transactions investigated.

In a letter responding to the audit, the FBI acknowledged that there are weaknesses in the background check system, and that N-DEX could be used to prevent some of those breakdowns. Unfortunately, the fact that anyone can evade proper FBI procedures for background checks, however rare that may be, can have serious and violent consequences.


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