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Close the Charleston Loophole

Close the Charleston Loophole

What is the problem?

Under federal law, gun purchases may move forward by default after three business days—even if a background check has not been completed. While 90% of federal background checks are completed in minutes, those that take longer than three business days are four times as likely to be denied.

In 2017, the shooter of nine worshipers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina was able to purchase a gun because of a dangerous loophole in the background check system. He was legally prohibited from having a firearm, but was able to complete the purchase because his background check was not completed within three business days.

Firearm sales should not be permitted to move forward until a background check on the prospective purchaser has been completed.

How it Works

Closing this loophole would ensure that no firearm is sold with an incomplete background check.

While federal law requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks on all prospective gun buyers, due to an NRA-backed loophole in the 1993 Brady Bill, gun sales can proceed by default after three business days—even without a completed background check.

Most background checks are completed on the spot, but typically 10 percent of all federal checks require additional time, with 3 percent of background checks are delayed longer than three days. A review of federal checks through the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) between 2014 and 2018 revealed that background checks delayed longer than three days are 4 times more likely to be denied.

This loophole presents a special danger for domestic violence victims. In its 2016 report, the Government Accountability Office found that background checks involving domestic violence flags take longer to resolve. Domestic violence prohibitions involve multiple criteria that often require significant investigation and coordination with local law enforcement. For example, because federal law only prohibits abusers from buying a firearm if they were married to their victims (or if they shared a child or a home), a background check may require investigation into the relationship between the parties. Between 2006 and 2015, it took the FBI more than three business days to determine 30 percent of denials based on misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. That means licensed dealers were legally authorized under federal law to transfer guns to 18,000 people who were prohibited domestic violence misdemeanants simply because their background checks took longer than three days.

WHAT STATES HAVE ADDRESSED THE CHARLESTON LOOPHOLE?

These states have laws that give authorities more than three business days to complete a background check on a potential gun buyer.

While these states give authorities more than three business days to complete a background check, the scope of these laws vary. Some states have closed the loophole entirely by prohibiting any sale without a completed background check. Others have extended the amount of time authorities have to complete a check or only prohibit sales from proceeding in certain circumstances, and these states can strengthen their laws even further. For example, Colorado law prohibits dealer sales from proceeding when a purchaser has been arrested for or charged with a prohibiting crime and the outcome of the arrest or charge is not available, but this law does not extend to determinations on non-criminal records, like domestic violence restraining orders, or to criminal records that indicate an outcome but nevertheless fail to resolve if the purchaser is prohibited. States shouldn’t allow guns to be transferred without background checks, and they should ensure that the Charleston Loophole is closed entirely.

Last updated: 7.11.2020

Myth & Fact

Myth

The loophole is insignificant because 97% of all background checks are completed within three business days.

Fact

Background checks delayed more than three business days are 4x more likely to be denied. This means that the loophole results in prohibited persons obtaining firearms. In 2019, 2,989 firearms were transferred to prohibited persons before a background check could be completed, including 562 that were transferred to convicted domestic abusers.

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Close the Charleston Loophole