New Bill Aims to Close “Charleston Loophole”

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, left, and Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster talk about their bipartisan bill.

COLUMBIA, S.C.—A bill filed Wednesday in the South Carolina Senate aims to close the “Charleston loophole” that allowed Dylann Roof to buy the gun he used to kill nine people at the Mother Emanuel AME Church. He was allowed by law to buy the gun after three days even though the background check had not been finished. This bill would extend that background check waiting period to five days.

“Lawful gun owners should applaud this legislation. The only people who should fear this legislation are people who are unfit to carry a gun,” said Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, one of the co-sponsors of the bipartisan bill, along with Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster.

Dealers would still be allowed to sell at their discretion after five days even if the background check isn’t complete, just as they are now. And the provision to extend the check to five days would last for only two years. After that, the law would go back to a three-day wait.

The bill would also strengthen the reporting requirements used to determine whether someone is allowed to buy a gun. For example, courts now have 30 days to report guilty verdicts to a state database, while under this bill they would have 10 days. Restraining orders, bonds, or other reasons that prohibit people from buying guns would have to be reported within two days. Roof had a pending drug charge against him that should have prevented him from buying a gun, but a clerical error in how it was reported kept it from showing up.

The bill is facing a time crunch to make it through this year. But Sen. Gregory says, “Every senator here should have an interest in it since it really springs from the death of one of our colleagues, so I would hope that would give it an extra impetus for us to get it through this year.” One of the victims of the Mother Emanuel AME shooting was Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was the pastor of the church. Sen. Kimpson says even if the bill doesn’t pass this year it will still be in the process for next year, since this is the first year of the two-year session.

Besides time constraints, the bill is facing philosophical opposition. Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Travelers Rest, says he doesn’t see a need to extend the waiting period to five days, since that would not have kept Roof from getting his gun. He thinks it could hurt someone who might suddenly need a gun, though, like a woman who’s just gotten a restraining order on an ex-husband or boyfriend. “It may cut into the time that you need to purchase that weapon for self-defense, to defend yourself or someone you love,” he says.

However, Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Little River, says 99 percent of background checks are finished within minutes, so it’s not likely people in that situation would be denied making a purchase. “It’s only going to affect that one percent of firearms purchasers that aren’t cleared immediately. So it’s a very small group of people that will be impacted at all and the worst that they can be impacted is if they have to wait two additional days,” he says.