June 17, 2023 will mark eight years since the massacre at one of the country’s most historic places of worship—Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. That racially motivated attack took nine parishioners’ lives and injured three others as they participated in a Bible study. It also exposed a loophole in our firearm background check system, known as the “Charleston Loophole,” that allows individuals to purchase firearms prior to an approval of their background check. Tragically, that very loophole enabled the gunman to acquire a firearm and commit that horrendous act.
The Brady Act mandates criminal background checks for all gun sales at licensed firearm dealers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Though most checks process within minutes, if NICS has not completed its background check within three days, regardless of the reason, the dealer can proceed with the firearm sale.
In Charleston, because the gunman’s background check had not been completed within three days, the shop had already sold the gun before he was deemed to be ineligible. Every year, thousands of weapons are purchased through this loophole that otherwise should be prohibited due to criminal records or other factors. Though this problem was discovered too late for the 12 victims at the Emanuel AME Church, we must narrow this loophole to prevent future tragedies. The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 is a solution that will change the background check system and save lives.
Since 2015, I have introduced the Enhanced Background Checks Act, and it passed the House in the 116th and 117th Congresses. This bill provides the FBI with crucial additional time to complete a background check on a potential firearms purchaser before a licensed dealer can transfer a gun. If a background check has not been completed after 10 business days, a purchaser may request an escalated review by the FBI. This request for an escalated review will trigger a more intensive FBI investigation, designed to resolve the case within an additional 10-business day period. If the additional 10 business days elapse without a response from the NICS system, only then may the dealer sell or transfer the gun to the purchaser. Transactions for prospective purchasers who do not request an escalated review cannot proceed until their background check is resolved.
Click here to see the full Bill Text of H.R. 2403 Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2023.