Michael Bloomberg’s gun prohibitionist group Everytown for Gun Safety is attempting to blame the National Rifle Association for a mass murderer being able to purchase a handgun, instead of putting the blame where the FBI already admits fault lies, with law enforcement.
The racist* who shot nine innocent people to death at Emanuel A.M.E. Zion Church in Charleston, SC, did so in hopes of triggering a race war.
The firearm he used for this heinous act was a Glock 41, a 13-shot semi-automatic pistol that he personally purchased at a South Carolina gun store (initial reports claiming that the suspect’s father purchased the gun for him were speculative and erroneous). The suspect chose his firearm on April 11, 2015, and filled out an ATF Form 4473. The data on the form was used to call the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) at that time.
NICS operators tell FFLs (federal firearms licence holders, AKA, gun dealers) whether they may proceed with a sale (“green light”), must deny a sale (“red light”), or must delay a sale (“yellow light”). The vast majority of NICS background checks result in a “proceed,” while denials are very rare; criminals know that they have a criminal record, and so they acquire their firearms illegally.
In this instance, the suspect’s application—who had no criminal convictions—was delayed. Delays are relatively common in NICS cases, and are often due to an overabundance of caution. Delays can result from sharing a similar name to a prohibited person in your town having a similar name, living at the same address as a known prohibited person, (for example, moving into an apartment vacated by a prohibited person) or other partial data matches. NICS dutifully attempts to follow up on these cases to ensure that prohibited persons do not acquire firearms through gun shops in three days as required by law. They easily complete the majority of those checks in three days, and the customer can then return to the store and the dealer may sell them the firearm.
In a very small percentage of cases totaling around 3,100 times a year, NICS investigators later determine that the sale was incorrect, and ATF agents use the customer data to retrieve the firearm, typically within several days.
That isn’t what happened in South Carolina.
As we noted in our initial report yesterday, the NICS background check system didn’t fail. Based upon what the FBI director has made public, there were two failure points.
Multiple Data Entry Failures
At the local level, for reasons that still remain unclear, the wrong arresting agency was listed for the suspect’s drug charge.
This data entry was compounded when because the list of law enforcement agencies in South Carolina used by NICS in their investigations was incorrect due to another data entry error.
ATF Retrieval Failure
When I worked retail in a gun shop, we once had a customer who was delayed, and who later returned to pick up his firearm after the three-day deplay period had expired. NICS determined the following day that he should have been considered a prohibited person, and sent ATF agents to our store to pull his form 4473, and then went to retrieve the firearm within 48 hours.
In this instance in south Carolina, the suspect waited five days—nearly doubling the amount of time investigators had to investigate his history—before picking up the handgun, on April 16, 2015.
62 days after picking up his firearm, and 67 days after submitting his information to the FBI NICS, the killer carried out his attack.
Where was the breakdown between NICS and the ATF that allowed more than two months to pass without the killer being targeted for a gun retrieval?
There is nothing wrong with the existing implementation of the NICS system.
What we had here is a all-too-human data entry error that seems to have originated in South Carolina law enforcement, and an even more worrying failure of communication between NICS and the ATF.
* Bearing Arms does not publish the names of mass murderers or spree killers.