CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – A federal judge on Monday grudgingly dismissed several lawsuits faulting the FBI’s background check system for enabling Dylann Roof to kill nine worshipers in a historically black church in 2015, lambasting the agency and a system of checks that “are hopelessly stuck in 1995.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel sentenced Roof to death for the church massacre in January, 2016. On Monday, three years and a day after the white supremacist opened fire on the unsuspecting members of a weekly Bible class, the judge handed down a scathing order blasting the agencies “disturbingly superficial” approach to handling background checks for firearms purchases.
Gergel said he was dismissing the 16 lawsuits filed by the victims’ families because the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act grants the government immunity in most situations when it fails to prevent weapons from winding up in the wrong hands.
Months before the murders, Roof was arrested on a minor charge and confessed that he used illegal drugs. That admission should have prevented him from buying the Glock pistol he used to carry out the June, 17, 2015, murders.
An FBI database contained a police report documenting the arrest, but the agency didn’t give its background examiners access to the resource. As a result, the three-day waiting period for the purchase expired, and Roof was allowed to pick up the pistol without the FBI ever determining his eligibility.
In response to the families’ lawsuits, the government argued the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System cannot use the agency’s own database because the unit doesn’t have a criminal justice purpose.
Gergel dismissed this claim as “simple nonsense.”
“The fault here lies in some abysmally poor policy choices made regarding the operation of the NICS,” Gergel said. “The most obvious of these poor policy choices was the decision to deny the examiners access to the most comprehensive federal criminal justice database.”
If the examiner had access to the N-Dex database which is restricted for law enforcement use she would have easily found Roof’s incident report, he said.
Gergel said if NICS cannot complete the search within three days the FBI should do as it has promised to both the public and Congress and continue the search to find missing records.
While he was compelled to dismiss the plaintiff’s case on the grounds of the government’s immunity, Gergel said the families might use his ruling to press Congress for a private relief bill. At the same time, he said, the FBI director might also use the court’s findings to correct the system’s glaring weaknesses and flaws.
“If more funding is needed the FBI director should be candid with Congress regarding the system’s flaws,” Gergel said.