The FBI had information in a database on Dylann Roof — accused of shooting and killing nine people in a historically black church in South Carolina — that might have prevented him from purchasing the firearm used in June 2015 fatal shooting, according to a new Department of Justice report on gun buyer background checks.
According to the report, the FBI Inspection Division’s review of Roof revealed “a prohibiting incident report” inside the National Data Exchange (N-DEX), which the bureau refers to as “an FBI-developed repository of unclassified criminal justice records.”
The N-DEX is separate from from another database, called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used by dealers and the FBI to determine whether individuals should be prohibited from buying guns.
The revelation was in an audit by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General of gun purchase denials through the NICS system conducted this year.
In a letter shared with BuzzFeed News responding to the audit, the FBI acknowledged the need to explore additional databases. In the letter, the FBI said it has identified two databases that could "assist in making transaction decisions" — one of which is the N-DEX.
The DOJ audit was launched after criticism that a breakdown in the background check system allowed Roof to buy a .45-caliber handgun after a three-day waiting period expired — despite him having previously admitted to drug possession.
After the shooting at Emanuel AME Church, the FBI revealed that Roof first tried to buy the gun in April 2015 from a dealer in West, Columbia, S.C. The dealer called the FBI — which is in charge of the national background check system — seeking approval. The agency did not give it, and asked for more time to investigate Roof's criminal history, which showed that he had recently been arrested.
Two days after Roof tried to buy the gun, a NICS examiner with the FBI found that Roof had been arrested that year on a felony drug charge but not convicted. The arrest alone would not have been enough to deny Roof’s purchase, but further investigation failed to obtain a police report where Roof admitted to possession of a controlled substance, which would have been enough to stop the sale.
It is unclear if that police report is the "prohibiting incident report" referenced in the audit.
The F.B.I. said the NICS examiner did send a request to the Lexington County prosecutor, who had charged Roof with drug possession. However, the prosecutor’s office failed to respond and after the three-day waiting period expired Roof was able to purchase the gun.
In its audit, the Office of the Inspector General reviewed 384 firearms transactions and found that the F.B.I. “appropriately followed its processes in 375 of them (97.7%),” calling the error rate “exceedingly low” — while noting that breakdowns can have “tragic consequences” as with Charleston.
The report also cites “weaknesses” in the FBI’s system for following up on pending gun transactions. They said that FBI told the Inspector General’s office that it intends to implement an automatic feature that send second requests to agencies that fail to respond — like the example in the Roof case.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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