Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine is one of four U.S. senators trying to close a loophole that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check isn’t completed after 72 hours -- even if the buyer is legally prohibited from purchasing a gun.
Kaine says that the loophole has allowed the sale of thousands of guns to illegal buyers, including the firearm used by Dylann Roof in the deadly attack at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, this summer.
The Background Check Completion Act was proposed today by Sens. Kaine and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif. It would require a completed background check on every gun buyer who purchases a firearm from a federally-licensed gun dealer.
Under current law, if a criminal background check indicates that a firearm purchaser may have a criminal record, the FBI tries to determine whether the purchaser can legally buy a gun. If this process takes more than 72 hours, the sale can proceed even if the FBI hasn’t determined the purchaser’s legal status. The 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech “wouldn’t have happened but for a glitch in the background record check system,” said Kaine, who served as governor during the rampage. “What we learned painfully through the loss of those 32 people and all of the families that were affected,” he said, “was the better the background check system you have, the safer you will be.”
The bill is endorsed by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, spokesman Ladd Everitt said.
“For too long, our legislators have prioritized gun industry profits over the safety of our families,” he said. “This bill is an important signal that we value the lives of our loved ones far too much to allow guns to be transferred without a complete background check.”
But the length of time it took to run a federal background check on the Charleston shooter wasn’t to blame, said Lars Dalseide, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association. “The tragic event in Charleston took place 64 days after the federal background check was run,” he said. “The problem was a lack of communication between federal and state agencies and not the amount of time that passed.”
Dalseide said the senators “should focus on solving those problems instead of using a tragedy to attack the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”
An FBI background check flaw was widely reported as allowing Roof to purchase the weapon. After he tried to buy a handgun April 11 in West Columbia, South Carolina, the FBI examiner assigned to his paperwork was unable to find a conviction for a felony drug arrest on his rap sheet. A fatal flaw was that the Lexington County sheriff’s office in South Carolina was mistakenly listed as making the arrest. While the examiner waited for more definitive answers following the wrong turn, the gun was sold to Roof on April 16, after the 72-hour window had passed for the gun dealer to hear back from the FBI.
On the local level, gun control has become a pivotal issue in the 10th District Virginia Senate race. The Michael Bloomberg-backed Every Town for Gun Safety Action Fund brought unprecedented attention to the race through a $700,000 ad buy for Democrat Daniel Gecker.
The television ad features Andy Parker, the father of 24-year-old Roanoke reporter Alison Parker, who was gunned down during a live interview alongside her cameraman, Adam Ward. Andy and his wife, Barbara, quit their jobs to travel the state in support of legislators in favor of gun control, and quickly are becoming the faces of the issue within Virginia. Republican candidate Glen Sturtevant, who has an A rating from the NRA, countered Gecker with ads that say he’s against gun violence and criticizes the candidate’s out-of-state donations.
The 10th Senate District covers all of Powhatan and parts of Richmond and Chesterfield County. The seat is held by long-time Republican Sen. John Watkins. The November contest joins the 29th District race as one of two contests in the state that is likely to determine which party runs the Republican-controlled state Senate.