Government Settles With SC Church Shooting Families

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

One of the issues with relying on NICS to catch all the bad actors before they buy guns is that NICS is a system designed and run by humans. People are the weak point in almost any system, after all, since we’re all inherently flawed beings. That means mistakes can and will be made, and we’ve seen plenty of them over the years.

A prime example is the Sutherland Springs shooting, where a dishonorably discharged Air Force veteran was able to buy a gun despite those facts.

He wasn’t even the first such example, either.

No, an earlier example was an infamous shooting in a black church in South Carolina. Now, the families of those slain have agreed to a settlement with the federal government.

Families of nine victims killed in a racist attack at a Black South Carolina church have reached a settlement with the Justice Department over a faulty background check that allowed [name redacted] to purchase the gun he used in the 2015 massacre.

The $88 million deal, which includes $63 million for the families of the slain and $25 million for survivors of the shooting, was set to be announced Thursday in Washington, Bakari Sellers, an attorney who helped broker the agreement, told The Associated Press.

Sellers said the “88” figure was purposeful. It’s a number typically associated with white supremacy and the number of bullets [the shooter] said he had taken with him to the attack.

“We’ve given a big ‘F you’ to white supremacy and racism,” Sellers told the AP. “We’re doing that by building generational wealth in these Black communities, from one of the most horrific race crimes in the country.”

According to the Justice Department, settlements for the families of those killed range from $6 million to $7.5 million per claimant. Survivors’ settlements are $5 million per claimant.

Months before the June 17, 2015 church shooting, [the shooter] was arrested on Feb. 28 by Columbia, South Carolina police on the drug possession charge. But a series of clerical errors and missteps allowed [him] to buy the handgun he later used in the massacre.

The errors included wrongly listing the sheriff’s office as the arresting agency in the drug case, according to court documents. An examiner with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System found some information on the arrest but needed more to deny the sale, so she sent a fax to a sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office responded it didn’t have the report, directing her to the Columbia police.

Under the system’s operating procedures, the examiner was directed to a federal listing of law enforcement agencies, but Columbia police did not appear on the list. After trying the separate West Columbia Police Department and being told it was the wrong agency, the examiner did nothing more.

After a three-day waiting period, [the killer] went back to a West Columbia store to pick up the handgun.

The fact that the shooter wasn’t stopped before he got started is tragic, to say the least.

Plus, I kind of find the settlement amount rather hilarious. As noted, the number “88” is big in white supremacist circles. The letter “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and so 88 represents HH or “heil Hitler.”

Using that number as a settlement amount for the families of black people who were killed simply because they were black? Oh, that’s just great.

Don’t get me wrong, a better outcome would have been for this to have never happened in the first place. That’s indisputable. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the settlement is a big middle finger to the kind of people who carried out this attack and who celebrated it.

Now, was the settlement warranted? Probably. The killer wasn’t eligible to purchase a firearm. No matter what you think of that law, it’s still the law. Because of governmental errors, he was able to purchase a handgun and carry out this attack.

It’s possible the settlement is high compared to others, but I’ve never understood how you can put a monetary value on human life anyway. How can you really say the settlement is too much when nothing can bring these people back?

 

Nov 26, 2021 10:30 AM ET