CHARLESTON, S.C. » Relatives of the victims and survivors of the Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston are suing the federal government for failing to prevent the sale of a gun used in the slayings of nine parishioners.
Five survivors and five families of those killed are faulting the government, claiming the FBI should have denied the sale of a gun to alleged shooter Dylann Roof because of his criminal history. Complaints for wrongful death and negligence were filed Thursday.
Had the sale been denied, “it would have prevented the foreseeable harm to those people affected by Dylann Roof’s use of the obtained handgun,” according to the complaint.
Roof, who is from the Columbia area, was arrested in February 2015 at the Columbiana Centre mall for possessing narcotics without a prescription. Under federal law, Roof should have been barred from buying the gun because it’s illegal to sell firearms to an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.”
In April 2015, the same month he turned 21, Roof walked into Shooter’s Choice in West Columbia to buy the handgun. When the store submitted the background check to the FBI, the purchase was initially flagged.
But through a series of mishaps, the clerk did not deny the sale of the gun before the required three-day waiting period ended.
So, a few days later, Roof walked out with the Glock .45-caliber handgun he allegedly used in the killings on June 17, 2015. FBI Director James Comey would later admit Roof never should have been able to buy the gun.
Comey’s admission spurred little to no action on behalf of federal and state governments to close screening gaps in hopes of avoiding another tragedy, said Andy Savage, who is representing several of the victims and families.
“Our clients are disappointed that despite the efforts led by state Sen. Marlon Kimpson and Gerald Malloy, the State of South Carolina has failed to close the ‘Charleston loophole’ caused by federal inadequacies, even in the shadow of this tragedy,” said Savage in a written statement.
“The victims and families hope that by bringing these actions, they can shine a very bright light on these shortcomings and prevent other individuals, families and communities from dealing with unfathomable and preventable loss and injury,” he said.
The goal of the proposed state and federal legislation is to do away with the provision that makes a gun’s sale automatic within three days, allowing the FBI to finish investigating a person’s background before a sale can go through.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott lamented that a lawsuit had to be filed to spark action. Even so, Lott said he’s not holding his breath.
“But it shows you can’t give up,” Lott said. “What we’re asking them to do is just common sense stuff to save people’s lives.”
Lott said the federal government should allow all the time that is necessary to ensure someone who shouldn’t have a gun doesn’t get one. But a waiting period of up to 30 days should be the compromise.
Those waiting periods, however, could also prevent law-abiding citizens from buying a firearm to protect themselves, said Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews.
“I do not favor in any way restricting lawful people from getting guns,” Matthews said. “In my view, you can’t stop every crime with a law.”
Matthews said he understood both sides of the argument and the frustration that comes with mass shootings. But he said he wasn’t sure if having a longer waiting period would’ve prevented the shooting “with the hatred (Roof) had in his heart and mind.”
Yet, filing lawsuits in hopes of spurring legislative action is not uncommon, said Kenneth Gaines, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
“When they go through the discovery, it’ll show some of the defects in the procedures that could be used as information to draft better laws in the future,” Gaines said.
©2016 The State (Columbia, S.C.)