No, Dylann Roof Didn't Arm Himself Through a 'Legal Loophole'

The absence of yet another law that somebody could have ignored just means that you have one legal violation instead of two.


Booking photo

For the record, when an act is illegal, but somebody does it anyway, the absence of yet another law that the somebody could have ignored is not a "legal loophole"—it just means that you have one legal violation instead of two. Yet Jeff Guo argues over at the Washington Post that (allegedly) murderous apartheid nostalgic Dylann Roof was able to arm himself to wreak havoc because of a "legal loophole" that allowed him access to a firearm. Writes Guo:

Federal law prohibits people with pending felony charges from obtaining firearms. In February, Roof was arrested and later charged with felony possession of Suboxone, a narcotic prescription drug. He was released, and  the case is pending.

Because of his criminal record, Roof would not have been able to buy a gun from a store. Federally licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks on gun purchasers, and Roof's pending charges should have turned up as a red flag.

But Roof didn't need to go to a dealership. According to his uncle, Roof received a .45-caliber pistol from his father in April for his birthday, Reuters reports.

South Carolina is one of 40 states that do not require background checks for private gun transactions, like the one that allegedly took place between Roof and his father. Gun control activists call this the "private sale" loophole.

It's illegal to give guns to felons or people with felony indictments — but that's only if you know about their criminal records. In South Carolina, you don't have to ask, so private citizens can more or less freely exchange guns.

Leave aside the fact that it's not yet known if the gifted gun was the one used in the killing. Is Guo arguing here that Roof's father, who it seems was willing to commit a crime by illegally giving a gun to his son against whom felony charges were pending, would have been brought up short by a requirement that he run the transfer through a dealer who would have then told Roof's old man (assuming the system's data was up to date) what he already knew? And that this would have prevented the transfer of the gun?

Apparently so.

People who argue for perfecting the world through the addition of yet one more rule in the never-boring game of statutory Jenga often seem to confuse the emissions of legislatures with the laws of nature. Hey, the law of gravity sucks, right? So we can prevent tragedy with a law that makes you run gift-giving performed across a gap of two feet in the privacy of a home through a database. Ha! That will do the trick!

Ummm… Have you met any of your fellow humans?

Guo writes that,"In South Carolina, you don't have to ask, so private citizens can more or less freely exchange guns." But that's true even in the states that require background checks—because those requirements really aren't enforceable. Private transactions are, by their nature, private. Unobserved, they're not good candidates for regulation.

Horrendous crimes understandably spur people to find a solution. But if preventing them were as simple as passing one more law, we would probably have perfected the world a long time ago.

Update: CNN reports that the gun used in the attack was purchased in April, at a gun shop. So the transaction was subject to a background check, to no effect. H/T: Fred Zuccini