Judge Dismisses Lawsuits Faulting FBI Background Check System for Charleston Church Shooting

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On June 18, 2018, a federal judge reluctantly dismissed 16 lawsuits faulting the background check system used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for enabling convicted murderer Dylann Roof to kill nine black worshipers in a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015, according to the Courthouse News Service (CNS).

CNS reports that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel – who sentenced Roof to death for the massacre in January of 2016 – handed down the order that called the FBI background check system for firearm purchases “disturbingly superficial” three years and a day after the deadly shootings on June 17, 2015.

Gergel – who also called the FBI background check system “hopelessly stuck in 1995” – dismissed the lawsuits filed by families of the victims because the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act grants the government immunity when it fails to prevent weapons from winding up in the wrong hands in most cases.

In response to the lawsuits filed by the victims families, the government argued the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) could not use its own database because the unit does not have a criminal justice purpose, a claim that Gergel dismissed as “simple nonsense,” CNS reports.

“The fault here lies in some abysmally poor policy choices made regarding the operation of the NICS,” Gergel wrote in the order dismissing the lawsuits. “The most obvious of these poor policy choices was the decision to deny the examiners access to the most comprehensive federal criminal justice database.”

The order and opinion in the case of Sanders v. United States of America, Civil Action No. 2: 16-2356-RMG, in the United States District Court District of South Carolina Charleston Division, is available at www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/charleston-shooting-ruling.pdf.

In July 2015, ESR News reported that former FBI Director James Comey issued a statement that Roof should not have been allowed to purchase the handgun used in the crime in April 2015 since a check of Roof’s criminal history revealed an arrest on a felony drug charge in South Carolina in March 2015.

Columbia, South Carolina police arrested Roof on drug charges in the small part of the city that crosses from Richland County into Lexington County, Comey stated, so Roof’s rap sheet listed the arresting agency as the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office and not the Columbia police as is usually the case.

Comey also stated that the arrest report by the Columbia police in which Roof admitted he was in possession of drugs – which would have been enough to deny him permission to buy a gun – was not seen by the NICS examiner since there was no mention of the Columbia police on the rap sheet.

After three business days had passed, Roof’s FBI background check was still listed as “status pending” so the gun dealer lawfully transferred the gun to Roof. “But the bottom line is clear: Dylann Roof should not have been able to legally buy that gun that day,” former FBI Director Comey concluded.

In July 2016, ESR News reported the families of nine victims killed in the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church filed multiple lawsuits against the FBI over the error that supposedly allowed Roof, then 21, to purchase the weapon used in the crime after undergoing a mandatory FBI background check.

Sadly, this case is not the only church shooting that involved a faulty background check. In November 2017, ESR News reported the gunman in a mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that left 26 people dead was prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms and ammunition.

Devin Patrick Kelley – who died shortly after the incident – passed a background check to purchase the rifle used in the shooting despite being court-martialed by the Air Force in 2012 for assault on his spouse and their child because the Air Force failed to record the conviction in the FBI database used by the NICS.

More Information about the FBI Background Check System

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