Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On October 28, 2021, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) reached an agreement to settle civil cases arising from a 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, involving a firearm background check that allowed the shooter to purchase the gun used in the shooting, according to a DOJ press release.

The 14 plaintiffs agreed to settle claims alleging that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was negligent when it failed to prohibit the sale of a gun by a licensed firearms dealer to the shooter. Settlements ranged from $6 million to $7.5 million per claimant for those killed in the shooting and for $5 million per claimant for survivors.

The plaintiffs claimed the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) failed to discover in a timely manner that the shooter was prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm and that this delay allowed the shooter to purchase the handgun he used to kill nine people at the Mother Emanuel AME Church.

On June 17, 2015, congregants at Mother Emanuel – a 200-year-old historically African-American congregation – invited a white stranger who had entered their church to participate in bible study. At the close of bible study, the man, who was a self-proclaimed white supremacist, killed nine people, including Mother Emanuel’s pastor.

“The mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church was a horrific hate crime,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland stated in the press release. “Since the day of the shooting, the Justice Department has sought to bring justice to the community, first by a successful hate crime prosecution and today by settling civil claims.”

When a person tries to buy a firearm in the U.S., the NICS staff performs a background check on the buyer that verifies the buyer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to purchase or own a firearm. Since launching in 1998, more than 300 million checks have been performed, leading to more than 1.5 million denials.

The FBI and NICS play a crucial role in combatting gun violence. Since this tragic shooting, the FBI has worked to strengthen and improve the background check process. The DOJ and FBI are also actively working to combat gun violence, which is a significant aspect of the department’s comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy.

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