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Politics & Policy

How the Texas Shooter Passed Background Checks

In 2012, the Texas shooter fractured his infant stepson’s skull and assaulted his wife as well. Then in the Air Force, he was court-martialed and sentenced to a year’s confinement.

This domestic-violence conviction disqualified him from legal gun ownership. But the military failed to submit the records for inclusion in the federal database used to run background checks, so he was able to acquire guns by simply walking into gun stores and buying them. He didn’t have to steal a gun, or have a “straw purchaser” buy one for him, or buy from a private seller who’s not required to conduct a background check.

He is the second church shooter in the past few years to buy guns this way despite being prohibited. The Charleston shooter should have been disqualified too, but when he tried to buy a gun, this is what happened:

The firearm application was referred to a NICS Examiner as the suspect’s arrest record showed an arrest for a felony drug charge. The arrest record, however, showed no conviction on the drug charge, so it was not by itself a basis to deny the firearm purchase. The Examiner delayed the application and sought additional details on the arrest. However, because the suspect’s arrest record incorrectly showed the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office as the arresting authority, the Examiner, after running down many leads with the local authorities, was unable to confirm the suspect’s conviction or his admitted possession of a controlled substance within the 3 business day grace period that would have triggered a denial on the grounds that the suspect was an unlawful drug user or addict.

After that “grace period,” the government can still retrieve guns that were sold improperly. That didn’t happen either.

I’ve long been sympathetic to the idea of expanding background checks to private sales, but such checks are only as good as the information they’re based on. The system seems to work the vast majority of the time, but there are lapses, and both the FBI and the governments that supply disqualifying records need to address them.

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