The FBI director, James Comey, told reporters on Friday that the 21-year-old should never have been allowed to purchase the gun due to drug charges he confessed to in March.
"We are all sick that this has happened," Comey told reporters in Washington DC. "We wish we could turn back time."
The National Criminal Background Check System performs checks for dealers selling weapons in 30 states nationwide, including South Carolina. The law is, that if the FBI does not respond within three business days, dealers are free to decide whether or not to make the sale on their own.
On April 11, when Roof attempted to purchase the weapon, the felony drug charge was spotted by an FBI examiner, but they missed his confession. The confession would have barred Roof from buying the weapon had it not been overlooked.
As the FBI needed more time to investigate Rood’s criminal history, they did not respond within the three days, the dealer went ahead with the sale of the.45-caliber handgun. There is no law requiring a dealer to notify the FBI when a gun has been sold.
“This case rips all of our hearts out, but the thought that an error on our part is connected to a gun this person used to slaughter these people is very painful to us,” Comey said.
The bureau’s inspections division has been ordered to conduct a 30-day review and report back to Comey with their findings next month.
This is not the first loophole discovered in the background check system, one loophole which was also related to the three day window, allowed thousands of prohibited buyers to make legal purchases of firearms over the last 10 years.
In 2007, after Seung-Hui Cho killed 33 people at Virginia Tech University, it was also discovered that he had slipped through the cracks, but should have been prohibited from purchasing the weapon, as a court had declared him to be a danger to himself.
In 2011, a failed background check allowed Jared Lee Loughner to purchase the firearm used in the attack on former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in a supermarket parking in Tucson which left six people dead including a nine year old child.
The Washington Post reports that the FBI handled 8.2 million background checks in 2014 and 228,000 of those were not responded to in the three day grace period.