The Policies that Could Have Prevented the Charleston Shooting

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.55.47 PMIn the aftermath of the horrific, racially motivated mass shooting in Charleston that left nine people at Emanuel AME Church dead, the FBI revealed that the shooter should have failed his background check when he purchased the murder weapon in April. This tragic error draws attention to dangerous flaws in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that we at the Law Center have been critical of since the system’s inception.

To be clear, NICS has prevented over two million dangerous, prohibited purchasers like felons, domestic abusers, drug addicts, and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns since its inception, saving countless lives. But there is, clearly, much room for improvement to ensure that the failure that enabled the Charleston shooting doesn’t happen again:

  • State Reporting Improvements: Many states fail to report essential information like criminal history, mental health status, domestic violence records, and, especially important in the Charleston case, illicit drug abuse records to the agencies that perform background checks. Increasing NICS funding and changing federal law to require states to report relevant records to the NICS system will close this dangerous gap in the background checks system.
  • Universal Background Checks: The best way to save lives from gun violence is require background checks on all private sales, including online and at gun shows. South Carolina has abysmal gun laws (we gave them an F on our 2014 Gun Law State Scorecard), and had the Charleston shooter failed his background check at the gun shop (as he should have), he still would have easily been able to purchase a gun through a private sale, where no background check is required. Eighteen states currently have some form of private sale background checks, but until we pass this smart gun law everywhere, we cannot act surprised when dangerous criminals get their hands on deadly weapons so easily.

NICS is great starting place for protecting our citizens from gun violence, but the system must continue to be improved and we must demand that our lawmakers stand up to the gun lobby and adopt lifesaving policies like universal background checks. Momentum is on our side, with 99 new smart gun laws passed in 37 states since Newtown, and we at the Law Center will continue to fight to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.

For more information on the importance of universal background checks, visit our policy page.

Could the FBI and ATF Merge to Create an Innovative Approach to Gun Laws?

Our partners at the Center for American Progress (CAP) released “The Bureau and the Bureau,” a new investigative report on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the poor management, inadequate resources, and onerous regulations that have led to the weak enforcement of gun laws in the United States. The report recommends that we fold the ATF into the FBI—an idea that has roots in President Reagan’s first campaign, and has been debated by Congress in different forms intermittently ever since.

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“Highlighting the challenges that ATF faces is not just another idle exercise in criticizing the inefficient bureaucracy of the federal government. The problem of gun violence in the United States is urgent: every day in America, assailants using guns murder 33 people. It is imperative that the federal government takes action to enforce the laws designed to stem the tide of this violence and that it does moreto ensure that guns do not end up in the hands of criminals and other dangerous individuals.” –”The Bureau and the Bureau,” Center for American Progress

CAP’s two-year investigation examined all aspects of both agencies—leadership structure, budgetary appropriations, coordination and communications, and the potential cost savings of merging the two bureaus. CAP’s report also shares ideas for a new organizational structure for the combined ATF and FBI. At the Law Center, we support common-sense solutions that will end the harrowing burden gun violence places on our communities. It’s essential that law enforcement organizations like the ATF have the highest caliber leadership and adequate funding to save lives, end gun trafficking, and enforce regulations on gun dealers. Because of political opposition from the gun lobby, the ATF was without a director for seven years, until B. Todd Jones was confirmed by the United States Senate in July 2014. He resigned after just seven months, following a failed effort to ban green tip “cop killer” bullets.

The instability of the ATF’s management structure makes now the right time to rethink the way the FBI and ATF work together. The gun lobby has pressured Congress to underfund the ATF and adopt burdensome regulations that make it harder for agents to enforce the smart gun laws already on the books, all of which has brought the ATF to a fever pitch of inefficiency.

CAP’s assessment that the FBI can provide strong oversight to an agency with a mission so critical to the safety of our citizens is an essential part of the conversation that needs to be had about enacting and enforcing smart gun laws at the federal level.

Read the full 160-page report on the Center for American Progress website.

The Mind, Madness and Gun Violence at the Commonwealth Club – NOVEMBER 1, 2012

The Mind, Madness and Gun Violence
Thursday, Nov 1 2012 – 6:00pm
The Commonwealth Club, San Francisco

A loaded gun in the hands of an unstable person wreaked havoc almost 20 years ago at 101 California Street in downtown San Francisco. Nine people died and scores of lives were forever shattered.  In the decades since, mass shootings continue to occur across America: Columbine High, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek – most of them with legal weapons, many in the hands of a mentally ill person. How can we predict and prevent violent acts in those who are mentally ill? What is the medical profile of a mentally ill person capable of carrying out this kind of violent act? How do the state and federal laws protect the rights of mentally ill persons and the community at large? The Commonwealth Club will examine these challenging questions with an expert panel, including Carol Kingsley, Board Member of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Joining the Panel:

Renée L. Binder, M.D., University of California, San Francisco Medical School; Psychiatrist; Professor; Founder and Director, UCSF Psychiatry and the Law Program
Carol Kingsley, Attorney/Mediator; Board Member, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Her husband Jack was among those killed at 101 California Street in 1993.
Mark Follman, Senior Editor, Mother Jones, focused on politics and national security. This past summer, Follman led an in-depth data investigation into mass shootings following the incidents in Aurora, Colorado and Wisconsin.
Robert J. McMenomy, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Francisco Division, headquarters and field agent investigating and managing criminal, counterterrorism and administrative matters
John Diaz , Editorial Page Editor, San Francisco Chronicle – Moderator

The Commonwealth Club is offering a few complementary tickets to Law Center members. Call our office today for your tickets! 415.433.2062 x309.

For more information, visit the Commonwealth website.

If you’re not able to attend but are curious about the discussion, you may be able to listen to it on national radio. Follow this link for more information on all the stations that air the program.