NY Times Blames Dylann Roof's Gun Purchase on 'System' Loophole, Then 'Law' Loophole

Apparently nothing is ever the government's fault during the Obama era — even a clear failure by authorities to prevent an alleged mass-murderer from acquiring a gun, and their failure to retrieve it once he obtained it.

Earlier today, before it went down the paper's frequently used memory hole, reporter Michael S. Schmidt wrote in his second paragraph (evidence here and here) that alleged mass murderer Dylann Roof got a gun despite having a disqualifying drug-possession arrest because of "A loophole in the (national background check) system and an error by the F.B.I." After apparently pushback from some readers, Schmidt revised his report, moving his "loophole" language to a much later paragraph, and characterized it as a problem with "the law," which is still completely wrong.

I will show that Roof's continued possession of a gun he should not have been allowed to keep is completely the fault of the people at the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

First, excerpts from Schmidt's writeup (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Background Check Flaw Let Dylann Roof Buy Gun, F.B.I. Says

The man accused of killing nine people in a historically black church in South Carolina last month was able to buy the gun used in the attack because of a breakdown in the federal gun background check system, the F.B.I. said Friday.

Despite having previously admitted to drug possession, the man, Dylann Roof, 21, was allowed to buy the .45-caliber handgun because of mistakes by F.B.I. agents, a failure by local prosecutors to respond to a bureau request for more information about his case, and a weakness in federal gun laws.

... The authorities’ inability to prevent Mr. Roof from obtaining the weapon highlighted the continuing problems in the background check system ...

... Mr. Roof exploited the three-day waiting time that has allowed thousands of prohibited buyers to legally purchase firearms over the past decade ...

... According to (FBI Director James B.) Comey, Mr. Roof first tried to buy the gun on April 11 from a dealer in West Columbia, S.C. The F.B.I., which operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS — Ed.), received a call from the dealer, seeking approval to sell Mr. Roof the weapon. The F.B.I. did not give the dealer the authority to proceed with the purchase because the bureau said it needed to do more investigating of Mr. Roof’s criminal history, which showed he had recently been arrested.

Under federal law, the F.B.I. has three business days to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to deny a purchase. If the bureau cannot come up with an answer, the purchaser can return to the dealer on the fourth day and buy the gun.

Let's stop right there. To be clear, the norm in most states, with South Carolina apparently among them, is that a purchaser with a clean initial background check gets to complete his or her purchase that day. According to the NICS's 2014 report, 91 percent of gun purchasers received such "immediate determinations" last year, leaving 9 percent which were moved to three-day pending status.

Now let's see what the NICS did with its three days in Roof's case:

Two days after Mr. Roof tried to buy the weapon (which would be the FIRST business day after Roof's Saturday, April 11 attempt to purchase — Ed.), an examiner at the F.B.I.’s national background check center in Clarksburg, W.Va., began investigating his criminal history. The examiner found that Mr. Roof had been arrested this year on a felony drug charge, but not convicted. The charge alone would not have prevented him from buying the gun under federal law. But evidence that Mr. Roof had been convicted of a felony or was a drug addict would have resulted in a denial, so she continued to investigate his background.

Because Mr. Roof had been arrested in a small part of Columbia that is in Lexington County and not in Richland County, where most of the city is, the examiner was confused about which police department to call. She ultimately did not find the right department and failed to obtain the police report. Had the examiner gained access to the police report, she would have seen that Mr. Roof had admitted to having been in possession of a controlled substance and she would have issued a denial.

The examiner, however, did send a request to the Lexington County prosecutor’s office, which had charged him, inquiring about the case. The prosecutor’s office, however, did not respond.

Around that time the three-day waiting period expired, and Mr. Roof returned to the store and purchased the gun. (on or about April 16 — Ed.)

So if we're to believe Mr. Schmidt and the government's supposedly apologetic hype, that's the end of it.

We're supposed to believe that once the three-day clock expires, everyone at NICS just stops investigating. The purchaser is home-free, and the government is powerless to do anything about it. Therefore, according to Schmidt's "logic," we have a "loophole."

The trouble is, that's not the case, and the NICS annual report says so on Page 21:

Firearm Retrieval Referrals

Because of the NICS Section's commitment to public safety and national security, the search for needed disposition information continues beyond the 3 business days to provide a determination as stated in the Brady Act. In some instances, the information is subsequently obtained and a final status determined. However, if the final status (determined after the lapse of 3 business days) results in a deny decision, and the FFL advises the NICS Section staff that the firearm was transferred, the NICS Section notifies the ATF that a prohibited person is in possession of a firearm. In 2014, the NICS Section referred 2,511 firearm retrieval actions to the ATF.

Now let's look at what NICS, from all appearances, failed to do after the three-day period expired:

  • It never followed up and obtained the actual police report from Roof's arrest.
  • It never made another attempt to contact the Lexington County prosecutor.

If NICS personnel had done either thing, it would have determined that Roof shouldn't have been permitted to buy his gun, and would have referred the matter to ATF to get it back. There isn't any reason to believe that ATF would have had a particularly difficult time finding Roof to carry out their retrieval.

That didn't happen. Though the clerk involved wasn't able to finish her work (the FBI has identified that person's gender) during the three-day waiting period, that failure is NOT why Dylann Roof still had a gun in mid-June when he (allegedly) killed nine people. He still had his gun because NICS, again from all appearances, totally dropped the ball after the three-day period expired during the two months between when the waiting period expired and Roof's (alleged) June 17 murder spree.

That's not "a weakness in federal gun laws," and the three-day limit is not a "loophole," Michael Schmidt. The Dylann Roof episode was a failure by NICS to carry out its acknowledged responsibility to do whatever it takes to see these matters through to final disposition. That's where the "breakdown" occurred. Schmidt apparently doesn't know himself, or doesn't want Times readers to know, that the continued investigations after three days and the frequent retrievals even exist.

Schmidt did mention that larger gun dealers like Wal-Mart, primarily to avoid even the slightest possibility of bad publicity, won't complete a purchase until it hears back from NICS. But that's not the law, and there's nothing wrong with the law.

What's wrong is that the government didn't do its acknowledged job.

Leave it to the New York Times to use the government's clear failure as an excuse to try to make readers think that the U.S. needs even more gun laws.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.