At center of Charleston church shooting settlement: How a white supremacist got a gun

·2 min read

A month after a white supremacist went on a killing spree inside a historic Black church in downtown Charleston in June 2015, the FBI director at the time admitted something had gone terribly wrong.

Not only were nine Black parishioners dead after attending a weekly Wednesday night Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, but the killer got and used a gun he should never have been allowed to legally obtain.

“The bottom line is clear,” then-FBI director James Comey said at the time, nearly a month after the shooting. “Dylann Roof should not have been able to legally buy that gun that day.”

On Thursday, the federal government announced it had reached an $88 million wrongful death settlement with the families of the nine Black churchgoers murdered by a white nationalist who said he set out to start a race war.

It is now among the largest settlements reached by the FBI.

At the center of the decision was a clerical error that exposed a crack in the federal background check system.

In the wake of the massacre, it came to be known as “the Charleston loophole.”

When Roof went to Shooter’s Choice gun store in West Columbia to buy a firearm in April 2015, legally, the sale should not have gone through.

Roof, who was 21 at the time, had an arrest record for drug use — a prohibiting factor that should have barred him from buying any gun.

However, under current federal law, a gun sale can move forward if a background check isn’t completed within three days.

And so, because Roof’s background check went unfinished after the three-day waiting period, he was able to pick up the .45-caliber Glock pistol.

Two months later, he used that gun to kill nine people in the 2015 hate crime at Mother Emanuel Church.

In lawsuits filed by the families and three adult survivors in the year after the mass shooting, they alleged that the FBI was negligent in performing a background check on the man who killed their loved ones.

As those suits wound through the court system, though, lawmakers tried to pass legislation. However, those attempts have so far been unsuccessful.

Roof is currently on federal death row in Indiana.

Roof was sentenced to death in January 2017 by a federal jury in Charleston, becoming the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime.

It took the jury less than three hours to decide on the death penalty. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel presided.

Roof’s most recent attempt to appeal his death penalty sentence failed this summer.

A three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in their decision, “His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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