Senator Seeks to Close "Loophole" by Which Alleged Emanuel Church Shooter Bought Gun

Jun 13, 2016

The Emanuel AME Church will hold 12 days of events to remember the victims and survivors of the the shooting on June 17, 2015.
Credit Alexandra Olgin

    

  At a small Baptist congregation a half hour north of Charleston, Melvin Graham Jr. is praying.

A laminated bookmark with a picture of his sister Cynthia Graham Hurd marks his bible. She was murdered on June 17, 2015 in the basement of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church along with eight others. Graham said he and his siblings plan to remember their sister through her passion.

“We came up with the idea of giving away books in June, in honor of her, because June is her birthday,” said Graham. 

Her birthday is just four days after the shooting. The librarian would have been 55. Graham said he has been overwhelmed with all of the support from the community. A library and scholarship have been named after Cynthia. But Graham said he’s disappointed that a year later lawmakers have not enacted any gun laws to protect people like Hurd.  

“Tragic things happen, but unless it affects you personally you feel bad for a moment and then you move on. You give a donation then you move on," said Graham. "But for the victims or the people that have been murdered we have to live with this everyday.”

Almost a month after the massacre, The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Dylann Roof was able to buy the .45 caliber handgun that he allegedly used for the shooting  because of an agency mistake. Under federal law, if the FBI doesn’t complete a background check within three business days federally licensed gun dealers have discretion to sell the gun without waiting for the results. That’s what happened in this case. Roof had admitted to possessing drugs after a previous arrest, something the FBI says would have been enough to deny him the ability to buy a gun. It is this gap that some have dubbed the “Charleston loophole” that Graham wants closed.

“Does his right to murder someone in a speedy and efficient manner more important than human life. If Dylann Roof had to wait 28 days to get a gun maybe nine people would still be alive," Graham said. "My sister would still be alive. I wouldn’t be sitting in an office trying to determine how many times she had been shot because there are so many holes in her."

Multiple bills were introduced to South Carolina lawmakers during the 2016 legislative session that would give the FBI 28 days to complete a background check and issue a decision to the gun dealer. Marlon Kimpson, Democratic state Senator representing parts of Charleston County is one of those championing this reform.

“The background check fails an essential purpose if it is not complete," Kimpson said. "So whether it is 3 days or 30 days the language needs to be until the background check is completed.”

His bill didn’t move forward this year. Kimpson says after some negotiating Republican state Senator Larry Martin from Pickens County agreed to a hearing in Charleston to allow testimony and get public feedback.

“We going to hear it, and we’ll look at it going forward into the next session. Does that mean I’m going to vote for it? No, more than likely not," Martin said. "But I still think they need to be heard and have the opportunity to try and present their case.”

Martin believes more stringent criminal record reporting requirements for local law enforcement might be more effective than more time for federal background checks when it comes to preventing criminals from getting weapons. A position the National Rifle Association has also advocated.

“I’m very much for the second amendment," said Martin. "The second amendment doesn’t give you the right to go out and harm somebody, or carry a weapon if you are a criminal.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics background checks have stopped more than 2.4 million gun transfers between 1994 and 2012. The hearing on expanding the time allotted to complete a background check before selling a gun in South Carolina is likely to happen later this summer.