It’s become an accepted side effect of confusing times in the United States: gun sales are up.
The combination of COVID-19 causing quarantines and increasing deaths, a record drop in US GDP, and protests in the streets of many cities has sparked an unprecedented surge in gun sales.
This poses two major concerns for people who are concerned about gun violence.
First, many gun deaths are accidental. Several times a week an American is shot accidentally by someone else or — remarkably — by themselves with their own gun. The odds of an accidental shooting increase with newer gun owners, who are simply less familiar with guns and proper handling.
Second, the unprecedented rush on guns means the background check system is overwhelmed. With 3.7 million background check requests in March, the system can’t quickly provide reliable information.
This is where the Charleston Loophole becomes a concern.
The Charleston Loophole
With background checks at an all-time high, it is normal to expect a delay. Systems work like that: they are built to handle the usual number of events. When there is a surge, there will be a delay.
We would naturally expect that this means that some gun purchasers would have to wait longer for their new gun.
Enter the Charleston loophole.
There is a provision carved out in the background check law that says no gun owner should have to wait more than three days. The remedy for this in the law, is that after three days, the sale is completed without the background check being completed.
This is how, in 2015, a white supremacist was able to purchase the gun he used to kill 9 black worshipers at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. He would have failed a background check, if any such check had been done.
However, the law says he would have been unduly inconvenienced if he’d had to wait longer than 3 days for his gun.
Everytown for Gun Safety estimates that in March, 1,100 guns were purchased without the necessary background checks being performed.
It would be irresponsible to suggest that all of these sales will lead to mass murder.
It would also be irresponsible to guarantee that none of them will. This is because people who are prevented by law from purchasing guns but want to have one anyway are aware of this delay as well, and will attempt to take advantage of it.
This means that our law allows violent offenders and domestic abusers the chance to legally purchase a gun, in order that they should not have to wait for the results of the check.
So what do we do?
Here are some steps you can take:
Petition your congressman and senator to expand funding for the background check system, so it can handle these types of surges.
Push for greater integration of state databases into one comprehensive, easily-searched national database.
Call on your federal legislators to end the Charleston loophole. The language should be simple: no background check, no gun.
Support state and national groups that are working to make America safer, including Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety.