In what USA Today calls “an extraordinary acknowledgement of a cascade of bureaucratic failures, FBI director James Comey said Friday that Dylann Roof should not have been able to buy the gun he allegedly used in the ghastly Charleston massacre last month.

Comey said an arrest record detailing Roof’s March 1 drug arrest by the Columbia, S.C., Police Department was not included in materials to be reviewed by the FBI’s National Instant Check System, which performs criminal background investigations on gun purchasers in about 30 states.

That arrest record would have prohibited the April purchase of the .45-caliber handgun in question.

“I am here today to talk to you about a mistake, in a matter of heartbreaking importance to all of us,” Comey said in a briefing at FBI headquarters. “Dylann Roof, the alleged killer of so many innocent people…should not have been allowed to purchase the gun he allegedly used that evening.”

USA Today has the whole story on this tragedy of errors:

During the mandatory background check prior to the attempted April 11 gun purchase, Roof’s March arrest on felony drug charges was mistakenly attributed to the Lexington County, S.C., Sheriff’s Department, not Columbia police. The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department operates the jail where Roof had been detained.

The Columbia police report included information that Roof admitted to drug possession, which would have triggered an immediate denial by the FBI NICS review process, according to bureau guidelines.

That information was never seen by the reviewer because the FBI’s database did not include Columbia police contacts in its list of agency contacts for Lexington County purchase reviews.

Because the FBI reviewer, described as veteran analyst who works on up to 20 purchases per day, was immediately unable to resolve the matter, the purchase was delayed for the maximum three business days before the gun was allowed to be transferred April 16 to Roof by a West Columbia, S.C., gun store.

“We are all sick about what happened,” Comey said, adding that he has ordered a review of the gun background check process.

The records breakdown, Comey suggested, was the primary error in a series of failures that allowed Roof to acquire the weapon used in the attack.

During the three-day waiting period, Comey said that the FBI reviewer apparently did everything else required of her and more to vet the purchase. While she was never directed to the Columbia Police Department, the FBI director said the reviewer contacted the Lexington County courts office, which showed only that Roof was a defendant in a drug case that remained pending, not enough to deny a pending sale.

The reviewer attempted to reach the Lexington County prosecutor’s office on the matter, but received no response, Comey said.

The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department informed her that it was not the investigating agency, though officials recommended checking with the Columbia police.

But Comey said reviewer contact sheets listing police agencies by county did not include Columbia, only West Columbia.

When she called West Columbia, the reviewer also was informed that they had no record of the case, according to the FBI.

The purchase continued to classified as “delayed” with a decision pending. But firearms dealers are permitted to transfer weapons to buyers after the three-day period, if there is no denial.

“By Thursday, April 16,” Comey said, “the case was still listed as delayed-pending, so the gun dealer exercised its lawful discretion and transferred the gun to Dylann Roof.”

And two months later, nine innocent blacks died at the hands of the admitted white supremacist.


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