Does Congress Have Blood on Its Hands?

When congressional Republicans defeated gun control legislation after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, they left open a legal loophole that permitted Dylann Roof to buy the .45-caliber handgun he allegedly used to kill nine people in a historically black church in South Carolina in June.

After the killings at Sandy Hook, Republicans voted down a bill that would have strengthened the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It was a failure in this NICS system that allowed Roof to buy the gun he is said to have used in the Charleston church killings, FBI Director James B. Comey said on July 10.

Convicted felons and drug addicts are not supposed to be able to buy guns. Roof was arrested earlier this year on a felony drug charge. He was not convicted, but admitted to possession of a controlled substance. That made him ineligible to buy a gun under Federal law.

But he was able to buy the gun anyway. The reason? NICS is broken. The individual at NICS charged with investigating Roof's background could not find the record of the 21-year-old's disqualifying drug possession admission.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 children and six adults were killed in Newtown, Conn., Congress considered legislation, known as the Manchin-Toomey amendment, that would have fixed NICS.

If the legislation had passed, the NICS investigator looking into Roof's background would most likely have had the missing record of Roof's drug possession. His April handgun purchase would have been blocked and the nine people shot down at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in a racially-motivated rampage would still be alive.

The Manchin-Toomey amendment was a modest bill. It would have expanded background checks to gun shows and Internet sales. It also included a provision incentivizing states to provide the FBI with records like those of Roof's drug admission.

Republicans knew of the carnage that could follow if they voted down the Manchin-Toomy amendment, named for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

In 2007, the gunman in another school shooting, at Virginia Tech, killed 32 people with firearms he was not legally not allowed to purchase. A court had declared Seung-Hui Cho mentally ill in 2005, making it against Federal law for him to buy guns. But NICS did not have access to those records and cleared him for the purchases, setting the stage for the gunman to carry out the deadliest killings ever in this country.

It was only a matter of time until the NICS would fail again, and another preventable shooting spree would take yet more innocent lives.

Republicans had to know this. And yet they voted down the bill that could have fixed the problem, the bill that could have prevented the blood spilled in Charleston.

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