COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – Saturday marks eight years since nine innocent Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston lost their lives when a white supremacist gunman joined their Bible study group and shot and killed them.
Since that time, Congressman James Clyburn has been pushing for legislation that would close the so-called Charleston loophole, and extend the federal background check waiting period before someone can purchase a firearm.
The bill passed the House in the last two Congresses, but has not this term, with the House in Republican control.
This week, Clyburn filed a petition to fast-track the bill out of committee and to the House floor for a vote.
Congress’s failure to act on this issue has made the last eight years “very disappointing,” Clyburn said in an interview Friday.
“These are nine people that would be alive today, but for that loophole,” he said.
Under current federal law, the F.B.I. has three business days to complete a background check and determine whether the purchaser is eligible to own a firearm.
If they cannot provide an answer in that time, the person can then return to the seller and buy the gun.
Clyburn, the Assistant Democratic Leader, wants that time period lengthened to 10 days.
The current waiting period was not enough time to flag gunman Dylann Roof’s purchase in this case, which should have been denied due to a prior arrest, Clyburn said.
“He beat the system, and we are allowing that loophole to continue,” he said. “That’s unconscionable.”
The background check examiner failed to obtain the incident report from the Columbia Police Department related to Roof’s prior arrest on drug possession charges, which would have led to denial of the sale.
Only three percent of all gun purchases are not cleared by a background check in three days, according to Clyburn.
“It could very well be that an error is made and that will show up, but still we’re talking about three percent,” he said. “So why should we keep allowing the American public to be subjected to the possibilities that among that three percent, could be one or two people that will take somebody’s lives as happened with these nine people?”
Clyburn said in a speech on the House floor this week that in 2021, more than 5,200 guns were sold to people due to this loophole whose sale should have been denied.
Critics like the National Rifle Association oppose the legislation.
They say it would create purchase delays, and infringe on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
Clyburn said he does not oppose anyone owning a gun, and that is not the purpose of this bill.
He said throughout his career and his studying of history, he has come to the belief that what makes America great is its ability to repair its faults.
“The whole shooting at Emanuel, that massacre unveiled a fault in our system, a fault in our background check system, that needs to be repaired,” Clyburn said. “And for eight years now, the country has refused to repair that fault. That tears at Alexis de Tocqueville’s notion that although this country may not be the most enlightened in the world, its greatness is that it’s always been able to repair its faults. And we have not repaired that fault.”
Rev. Clementa Pinckney was once an intern in his office, and another one of the nine was among his daughter’s best friends.
“I said in my memoir that I call Blessed Experiences that all of my experiences have not been pleasant, but I’ve considered all of them to be blessings,” Clyburn said. “This is an unpleasant experience, and I’m still searching for the blessing.”
If the bill were to pass the House, it faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
When asked about those prospects on Friday, Clyburn acknowledged the legislative battles ahead.
“It’s going to be difficult, but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt it,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things since I’ve been in the Congress that were very difficult to do, and I’ve learned throughout my life that you keep trying.”
Clyburn believes Congress should also take action on additional gun control legislation, like re-instituting the assault weapons ban.
The best way to honor the legacies of the Emanuel 9, Clyburn said, is to communicate with one another.
“I would hope that every year around June 17, two days before the celebration of Juneteenth, a holiday that we have today that is made possible because of a failure to communicate,” he said. “That’s what Juneteenth was all about. People who had been set free did not find out about that freedom until two and a half years later. Why? Because of a failure to communicate. Nobody ever told them that they had been set free, and lived for another two and a half years in slavery.”
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