17:17 GMT02 December 2020
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    At the core of one of the most stringent gun control measures in effect in the US is a potentially dangerous legal grey area, allowing people barred from buying guns to do so.

    Established in 1993 as a result of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) identifies individuals legally precluded from buying guns before they buy them — sellers run a prospective purchaser's name into NICS, the FBI conducts a background check, and reports back to sellers on whether or not the customer is legally entitled to.

    While loopholes in laws and regulations typically arise from sloppy or ambiguous wording, the 1993 Act specifically mandates that if a firearms seller doesn't receive a response from the FBI within three days, they can proceed with the sale — and the bureau does not contest this.

    ​Sales resulting from a failure to respond in the allotted time — "default proceeds" — are relatively rare. FBI data indicates in 2015, over 90 percent of background checks were immediately responded to, and a mere three percent of background check requests went unanswered.

    Nonetheless, that seemingly meager three percent equates to around 370,000 purchases of guns without vetting that year alone — of which 2,892 buyers were in fact legally prohibited from owning firearms.

    When a "default proceed" transacts, the FBI orders the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to retrieve the offending gun — in 2016, the FBI issued over 4,000 orders, the most the agency had requested in ten years.

    ​One individual who infamously slipped through the FBI's web was Dylann Roof, in 2015. The 21-year-old white supremacist's former conviction for possessing a controlled substance should've prohibited his purchase — however, the FBI did not respond in time, and the sale went ahead. Not long after, he'd use his ill-gotten firearm to murder nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church.

    Dylann Storm Roof appears by closed-circuit television at his bond hearing in Charleston, South Carolina in this file photo taken from video June 19, 2015
    © REUTERS / POOL/Files
    Dylann Storm Roof appears by closed-circuit television at his bond hearing in Charleston, South Carolina in this file photo taken from video June 19, 2015

    'Charleston Loophole'

    Roof's inadvertent exploitation of the legal anomaly has led to it being dubbed the "Charleston Loophole" by lawmakers and the media — and in 2017, Democratic legislators in both Congress and the Senate introduced legislation that would close it.

    However, neither proposal has been allowed onto the legislative agenda by ruling Republicans. Such scuppering was perhaps predictable — between 2011 and 2016, US lawmakers introduced over 100 gun control proposals, and not one was passed into law, with very few even making it to a House or Senate vote.

    This legislative failure persists despite polls consistently suggesting support for stricter gun control laws far outweighing support for current laws, or indeed their relaxation. Moreover, public backing for tighter gun control laws has fallen over time, from 78 percent in 1992 to 55 percent in 2016. 

    ​In 2017, the number of guns in circulation in the US stands at between 300 million and 420 million — and despite frequent mass-shootings, US gun ownership rules have not been substantially reformed since the 1993 Act.      

    Gun lobbying groups are typically blamed for this lack of progress — in particular the National Rifle Association (NRA), an advocacy group boasting vast resources and a membership base of around five million.

    ​From January 1 to June 30 2017, the NRA spent US$3.2 million on lobbying — more the entirety of its efforts in 2016. Filings show the NRA lobbied 81 pieces of legislation in this period alone.

    President Donald Trump's administration has also established itself as more pro-gun than its predecessor. On his first day in office, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke revoked an Obama-era ban on the use of lead ammunition in wildlife refuges — and  the Department of Justice has also shut down a financial crimes probe — Operation Choke Point — the NRA claimed unfairly targeted gun dealers. The ATF has also invited silencer companies to assist the Agency in streamlining the process for National Firearms Act permit applications.


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    shooting attack, mass shooting, shooting spree, gun control, Charleston Shooting, NRA, Dylann Roof, Donald Trump, US
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