July 21, 2015 by Chris Kite
The NRA is directly responsible for the June 17 Charleston Church shooting. Back when the background check bill was being written, gun rights supporters didn’t like the idea of good, law abiding citizens having to wait to get their guns. This was bad for impulse purchases and thus bad for gun dealers and manufacturers (the NRA had yet to figure out how to spur sales of guns by creating fear and panic). The NRA and gun supporters fought to put a clause in the bill that allowed the sale to go ahead if the background check didn’t deny the sale within a specific period of time. Because in their eyes, it is more important to sell a gun than to make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
That is worth repeating. If the background check couldn’t come up with an approval or denial within a specific period of time, the gun sale could proceed.
That may sound reasonable. And I suppose that based on technology and systems in place, it could be reasonable. But keep in mind that back when this law was written, no national database or background check system existed. In any form. So it seems logical it could take more time in some cases than others.
The original period in the bill was seven days. This gave law enforcement time to go through records and cross check arrest records to see if a conviction was issued or if other factors prevented the sale. The NRA was banking on the fact that sometimes this is a slow process. And they were ignoring the fact that if an approval could not be given within a week, chances were significantly higher that the person was not legally allowed to own a gun. Through various efforts to essentially sabotage the law, the NRA and gun rights people successfully fought to reduce the period. Because back when this bill became law, in 1993, a single, computer database driven system that could provide fast results simply didn’t exist and seemed a distant possibility. And when the law first started its long journey through the “sausage making machine” a computerized system was even further from reality. The NRA was eventually successful in getting the period reduced to three days. Even in the times of computer databases, high speed internet, and amazing technology, this still isn’t always enough.
Without going into tons of detail (which is provided in the attached links), the shooter in Charleston was NOT approved to buy the gun. His status was still pending when the three day period was reached and the dealer decided to move forward with the sale. Many of the initial reports I read made it sound like some kind of FBI or local law enforcement screwup. But it was just that cross checking records can be difficult to do in some circumstances.
Keep in mind, that if no arrest records are found, the sale is quickly approved. But when arrest records are found, sometimes the process of learning the fate of the defendant can be difficult. As was the case with the Charleston church shooter. And of course, the presence of an arrest record greatly increases the chances that it is tied to a conviction or other circumstances that prevent the sale. The FBI was trying to track down the fate of the applicant but ran out of time, thanks to the NRA’s lobbying effort and their success in getting not only a specific period in which the background check must be completed, but getting it shortened from seven days to three.
Note – I refuse to ever use the names of mass shooters. They don’t need more fame for taking the lives of innocent people. And others don’t need to think they can go out in a blaze of fame and glory by killing a bunch of people.