That Dylann Roof was able to purchase a firearm despite a drug arrest comes as evidence that background checks have been an “utter failure,” says a leading gun-rights group.
“Background checks for purchasing firearms have been an utter failure,” said Gun Owners of America spokesman Erich Pratt in a statement. “Arguing that we can make background checks better to stop criminals from getting guns is the very definition of insanity.”
FBI director James Comey said Friday that the National Instant Check System (NICS) failed to pick up Mr. Roof’s admitting to possession of a controlled substance after a March 1 arrest in Columbia, South Carolina.
The admission should have disqualified the 21-year-old Mr. Roof, charged in the June 17 slaying of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, from purchasing a firearm.
Mr. Comey called it a “mistake in a matter of heartbreaking importance to all of us.”
“Dylann Roof, the alleged killer of so many innocent people … should not have been allowed to purchase the gun he allegedly used that evening,” Mr. Comey said at a press briefing.
The admitted failure of the system immediacy spurred calls from gun-control advocates for expanding background checks and lengthening the current three-day waiting period to purchase handguns.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pushed back Sunday, saying calling the failure of NICS was tragic but did not justify expanding the system.
“We expect when the feds say they’re going to do something, we take them at their word that it is going to get done. The fact that it didn’t get done is terrible,” Mrs. Haley, a Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“When we got the call from the FBI telling us what had happened, I was literally sick to my stomach,” she said, adding that she was told the problem with the background check was by the FBI and not state or local police.
Mrs. Haley said the failure of the system did not indicate the need for longer waiting period or more expansive background checks.
“We need to look at the fact that it’s not about time — it’s about technology. This is something — when someone has a charge filed against them, it should go into a database and it should be shown immediately to anyone that’s looking at it,” she said.
The FBI should be looking at what went wrong with the current system, she said
“Why are they dealing with paperwork, and not dealing with technology,” she asked.
Immediately after Mr. Comey announced the foul up, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called on Congress to approve a House bill to spend $400 million on beefing up the NICS system and expanding background checks to include “gun shows and online purchases.”
“Dylann Roof’s arrest on a drug charge, combined with his admission of prior drug use, should have prevented him from buying a gun, and it’s a tragedy that is not what happened,” said Brady Campaign president Dan Gross in a statement.
He said background checks have been “incredibly effective and have saved lives by blocking more than 2.4 million gun sales — more than 350 every day — to people we all agree shouldn’t have them like domestic abusers, felons, and other dangerous people.”
However, Mr. Pratt responded by ticking off a list of high-profile shootings, including the July 1 death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant with a lengthy felony record, as evidence that criminals are avoiding the background-check process by obtaining guns illegally.
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who pleaded not guilty Tuesday but has admitted to shooting Ms. Steinle in what he described as an accident, said he found the gun, which reportedly belonged to a federal agent.
In other cases, such as the 2012 Aurora theater massacre, accused gunman James Holmes passed a background check before shooting and killing 12 people.
“The entire background check is flawed. Not only is it unconstitutional, it’s already failing to keep guns out of the criminals’ hands,” said Mr. Pratt.
Mr. Comey said he has ordered a 30-day internal review of the FBI’s background-check process in firearms transactions.
⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.