Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is planning to add the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) System to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) used to screen gun buyers in the U.S. to fix a flaw in the system that enabled convicted murderer Dylann Roof to purchase a weapon used to kill nine black worshipers in a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015, reports The Trace.

The Trace reports the FBI would use the 400 million records in N-DEx – which include incident and arrest reports and probation and parole documents – to screen gun buyers following an internal review that found Roof would have been blocked from legally acquiring his murder weapon if examiners performing his gun background check were able to use N-DEx.  The change will take at least two years to complete.

N-DEx provides criminal justice agencies with an online tool for sharing, searching, linking, and analyzing information across jurisdictional boundaries. A national repository of criminal justice records submitted by agencies from around the nation, N-DEx enables users to “connect the dots” between data on people, places, and things that may seem unrelated in order to link investigations and investigators.

In June 2018, ESR News reported that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel – who sentenced Roof to death in January of 2016 – dismissed 16 lawsuits faulting the FBI background check system for enabling Roof to purchase the gun. Judge Gergel handed down the order that called the FBI background check system for firearm purchases “disturbingly superficial” three years and a day after the shootings on June 17, 2015.

“The fault here lies in some abysmally poor policy choices made regarding the operation of the NICS,” Gergel wrote in the order in response the argument the FBI could not use its own database because the unit does not have a criminal justice purpose  “The most obvious of these poor policy choices was the decision to deny the examiners access to the most comprehensive federal criminal justice database.”

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 usually grants the government immunity when it fails to prevent weapons from winding up in the wrong hands. The opinion in the case of Sanders v. United States of America is available here.

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 – which would have been enough to deny him permission to buy the gun used in the church shooting.

Comey stated that Columbia, South Carolina police arrested Roof on drug charges in the part of the city that crosses from Richland County into Lexington County, so Roof’s rap sheet listed the arresting agency as Lexington County Sheriff’s Office and not Columbia police as is usually the case. So the arrest report was not seen by the NICS examiner since there was no mention of the Columbia police on the rap sheet.

Because of this delay, Roof’s FBI background check was still listed as “status pending” after three business days had passed so the gun dealer lawfully transferred the gun to Roof under the rules of the NICS gun background check system. “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 November 2017, ESR News reported the gunman in a mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that left 26 people dead – Devin Patrick Kelley, who died shortly after – passed a background check to purchase the rifle used in the shooting despite being court-martialed by the Air Force for assault on his spouse and child because the Air Force failed to record the conviction in the FBI database.

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