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Families of Charleston church shooting victims, survivors sue the FBI

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / JUNE 2015

    In this file photo, Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C.

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.

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©2016 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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  • There you go folks. Wrongful death lawsuits are a strong response against terrorist acts that had some complacency by officials and also should be filed against the terrorists families and friends that new.

      • Not exactly…..apparently someone at the FBI goofed becaused the sale was flagged so the purchase should have been denied…that’s why the FBI is being sued…..

  • This is an interesting situation made more difficult to assess because the article is thin on the salient details. First and foremost, what was the “series of mishaps” that occurred after the purchase was originally flagged? And who’s accountable for them — the FBI? The seller?

    Why would the sale be approved at all when the wannabe purchaser had already come up with a red flag in the database? That should have put the kibosh on the sale immediately and for good. If the buyer was flagged in error, let them be the one to file an appeal. But no sale in the meantime.

    The government is certainly the deep-pocket defendant, but without more detail there’s no way to assess whether the FBI should be liable in this case.

    • Now the Orlando and San Bernadino victims families will sue. They have more standing since the idiot killers were on the FBI’s radar. We need to stop this PC cr@p and arrest these terrorists.

    • Of course the FBI is liable because the gun dealer cannot sell without getting the approval from the government which was suppose to do a background check into the prospective buyer before authorizing the sale……evidently someone goofed…

  • This really gets to the main point of guns in this country, enforcement. There is new state legislation to come out, but at the end of the day, how well are these laws enforced. With state/federal budget cuts there is very little enforcement going on because it costs money. The next round of legislation by the state should include a HUGE sales tax for purchasing a gun, require a large renewal fee for annual gun permits, and place a mandatory law enforcement fee on every gun made here or brought into the US. This money would all get earmarked on fiscal budgets for gun enforcement.

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