Delaware will consider bill to close ‘Charleston Loophole’

Delaware’s House Majority Leader intends to file legislation to close a loophole in the state’s law requiring background checks for firearm purchases.

While federal law requires anyone wishing to buy a gun through a federally licensed dealer to submit to a background check, if the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System doesn’t process an application within three days, the firearms dealer may proceed with the sale – though they are not required to.

Several states have laws in place to close the protocol, and some — such as Oregon — are considering similar legislation to close the “Charleston Loophole” – so named because it is what allowed 21-year-old Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he later used in his 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine people dead.

Last Wednesday, Valerie Longhurst, the Democratic Delaware House Majority Leader, sent a letter to her state’s congressional delegation – Sens. Tom Carper, Chris Coons, and Rep. John Carney – declaring her desire to close the loophole, and requesting they attempt the same change at the federal level.

“At least 18 states have addressed this delayed transaction loophole in a manner that reduces the number of prohibited people who are able to purchase firearms, and Delaware absolutely should be one of those states,” she said in the letter.

In her letter, Longhurst includes FBI statistics that indicate 15,729 guns were sold to ineligible people due to the delayed transaction provision from 2010 to 2014. And FBI investigations into ineligible gun purchases can “typically take 25 days to complete,” she added.

Additionally, Longhurst suggests that doing away with the loophole wouldn’t negatively affect too many people, and points out in her letter that a majority of Delaware’s background checks are processed in minutes, with only about 8 percent of all checks taking between a couple hours and a few days.

“If we truly believe, as most Americans do, that any person who seeks to lawfully acquire a firearm must pass a background check before doing so, then this is a common-sense solution – no background check, no gun,” Longhurst wrote.

A similar measure in Oregon – House Bill 4147 — had its first hearing last Wednesday, where the House Judiciary Committee heard a couple hours of testimony from victims of the Charleston shooting, gun control proponents and Second Amendment activists.

Oregon State Police data indicates that only about 3.2 percent of the state’s background checks were subject to a delay, while most checks were processed in minutes, The Oregonian reported.

The newspaper added that there was little discussion at the end of testimony, and the Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule a vote.

Everytown, a gun control group funded in large part by former-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has advocated for legislation to do away with the loophole. But gun proponents have argued for keeping the “loophole” in place.

The National Rifle Association has defended keeping the delay to three days for a few reasons. For one, the NRA says that identities can be confused or records may be incomplete. Additionally, the three-day rule helps keep the FBI running the system efficiently. And last, the rule is a preservation of the principle of due process — that the government cannot arbitrarily deprive a person of their rights.

And the National Shooting Sports Foundation has also supported the three-day limit on delays, although they agree that the system needs to be fixed.

However, the NSSF has instead suggested for a set standard to input and process the data already used by the system, to help ensure that guns don’t wind up in the wrong hands.