Law­mak­ers tar­get gun- check ex­emp­tion

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By Sarah Roach Sarah.roach@chron.com

WASHINGTON — Dy­lann Roof killed nine peo­ple at a his­toric black church in Charleston, S. C., us­ing a firearm he never should have had.

That dis­cov­ery prompted Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D- Conn., to take leg­isla­tive ac­tion.

But since that 2015 shoot­ing, the num­ber of peo­ple able to get a firearm with­out a com­plete back­ground check has jumped na­tion­wide — and con­gres­sional ac­tion is at a stand­still.

Blu­men­thal in­tro­duced the “No Check, No Sale” bill in Oc­to­ber to change a pro­vi­sion in fed­eral law that al­lows a gun sale to be com­pleted af­ter 72 hours, even if the FBI has not finished a back­ground check.

The 72- hour rule was in­serted at the be­hest of gun- rights sup­port­ers who wor­ried that bu­reau­cratic fum­bling might de­lay a law­ful gun pur­chase.

“No Check, No Sale” has with­ered in Congress over the past eight months de­spite an uptick in peo­ple pur­chas­ing firearms with­out a fully com­pleted back­ground check.

The per­cent­age of peo­ple pur­chas­ing a gun with­out a com­plete back­ground check rose from 2.8 to about 3.6 per­cent be­tween 2014 and 2017, ac­cord­ing to ThinkProgress data re­leased ear­lier this year. That 3.6 per­cent trans­lates into more than 300,000 peo­ple pur­chas­ing a gun in 2017 with­out the fed­er­ally licensed firearms dealer fin­ish­ing a back­ground check be­cause 72 hours had elapsed.

Blu­men­thal said the num­bers are “alarm­ing, given a gap­ing loop­hole” in the FBI’s en­force­ment of back­ground checks which al­low in­di­vid­u­als to pur­chase a gun in 28 states if the FBI does not clear them within 72 hours.

“No check, no sale must be the rule,” Blu­men­thal said.

Go­ing un­no­ticed

The bill sprouted from rising gun vi­o­lence con­cerns, like the in­ci­dent in Charleston. Roof, the Charleston shooter, walked into a gun shop in 2015 and pur­chased a .45 cal­iber Glock hand­gun. Since he had been charged with a felony the pre­vi­ous year, he was in­el­i­gi­ble un­der law to buy a gun.

The charge went un­flagged dur­ing the 72- hour pe­riod for the back­ground check be­cause of con­fu­sion over which South Carolina ju­ris­dic­tion was re­spon­si­ble for the pros­e­cu­tion. Once the time ex­pired, Roof was able to buy the gun in April and use it in the church mas­sacre two months later.

The FBI later ad­mit­ted con­fu­sion in Roof’s back­ground check, prompt­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into their pro­ce­dures.

The in­ci­dent il­lus­trated the gaps that ex­ist in the FBI’s Na­tional In­stant Crim­i­nal Back­ground Check Sys­tem, which pro­cessed 25.2 mil­lion back­ground­check re­quests in 2017. A gun­man was able to get a weapon and kill more than 20 church­go­ers in Suther­land Springs, Texas, last year be­cause his do­mes­tic vi­o­lence con­vic­tion hadn’t been en­tered into NICS.

The shooter at Vir­ginia Tech who killed 32 in 2007 had been ad­ju­di­cated men­tally ill, which should have dis­qual­i­fied him from pur­chas­ing a gun. But be­cause he was or­dered into out­pa­tient treat­ment rather than com­mit­ted to a hos­pi­tal, his name did not ap­pear in NICS when he bought two guns.

While Congress at­tempts to give states in­cen­tives and cash to in­put rel­e­vant records into NICS, the 72- hour rule stands out in the minds of gun- con­trol ad­vo­cates as some­thing that should be easy to fix.

How long is too long?

Back­ground checks were first man­dated un­der the 1993 Brady Law, which re­quired states to im­pose a five- day wait­ing pe­riod be­fore some­one buys a firearm to al­low time for a proper check.

As the fully com­put­er­ized back­ground- check sys­tem came into ex­is­tence, the five- day wait was no longer a re­quire­ment. But in a com­pro­mise, Congress agreed to the 72- hour rule in what law­mak­ers viewed as a bal­ance be­tween a pur­chaser’s rights and the pub­lic- safety need for a com­plete back­ground check.

Un­der fed­eral law, licensed gun deal­ers must en­ter a cus­tomer’s in­for­ma­tion into NICS. The sys­tem sorts through its data­base of state- sub­mit­ted in­for­ma­tion for pos­si­ble dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions, which in­clude a felony con­vic­tion, a per­ma­nent do­mes­tic- vi­o­lence re­strain­ing or­der, ad­ju­di­ca­tion as a “mental de­fec­tive” or il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

But in 18 states, in­clud­ing Con­necti­cut, back­ground checks are con­ducted within each re­spec­tive ju­ris­dic­tion and also pro­cessed through a lo­cal data­base. If a back­ground check is not pro­cessed within 72 hours in Con­necti­cut, the process is ex­tended to a 30- day dead­line.

In Massachusetts, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the coun­try, the sys­tem fell be­hind on re­port­ing to the fed­eral data­base be­cause of a staffing short­age and tech­no­log­i­cal slow­ness, ac­cord­ing to The Bos­ton Globe.

Blu­men­thal and Sen. Chris Mur­phy, D- Conn., — a co- au­thor of the bill — blame a Repub­li­can- con­trolled Congress for fail­ing to push the “No Check, No Sale” mea­sure for­ward.

“It’s pretty sim­ple— if you can’t pass a back­ground check, you shouldn’t be able to get a gun,” Mur­phy said of the bill. “It’s a mat­ter of po­lit­i­cal power, and Repub­li­cans are block­ing ev­ery ef­fort to change our gun laws.”

But Scott Wilson, the pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut Ci­ti­zens De­fense League, said there should be more em­pha­sis on im­prov­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween state and fed­eral agen­cies with faster tech­nol­ogy, rather than ex­tend­ing a 72- hour back­ground check.

“In a day and age of com­puter and in­stant back­ground checks, I can’t see what the hold- up is,” he said. “They should be faster — I think 72 hours is very gen­er­ous.”

Mark Bar­den, the founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Sandy Hook Prom­ise, added that funds should be al­lo­cated to the tech­nol­ogy and staffing of de­part­ments that process back­ground checks be­cause the fed­eral and state sys­tem is tak­ing too long.

He said there’s “room for im­prove­ment across the board” to im­prove re­la­tions be­tween fed­eral and state data­base shar­ing, staffing and meth­ods of fer­ret­ing out dis­qual­i­fied gun pur­chasers.

“This is pretty sim­ple, ob­vi­ous stuff — this shouldn’t be a con­tentious is­sue,” Bar­den said of the bill. “If there are re­sources to make it bet­ter, then we can make it bet­ter.”

Lynne Sladky / As­so­ci­ated Press

A cus­tomer looks at a pis­tol at a ven­dor’s dis­play dur­ing a 2016 gun show in Mi­ami.

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