Baltimore, MD – Gun policy expert and researcher Daniel Webster, ScD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is available to comment on how a permit-to-purchase handgun licensing system could have helped prevent the Charleston shooting.
Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that Dylann Roof was able to purchase the handgun he used to murder nine people in Charleston’s AME Church due to a clerical error in the record of Mr. Roof’s earlier arrest for illegal drug possession. During his arrest in Columbia, South Carolina, Roof confessed to illegal drug use, information that would have kept Roof from purchasing the gun had the FBI obtained it in time. But because the arrest record that was sent to the FBI mistakenly indicated that the sheriff’s dept. is the arresting agency, the FBI was not able to confirm details of Roof’s arrest in the 72-hour time period, and the gun dealer was cleared to sell the gun.
If South Carolina had had another law in place, the so-called permit-to-purchase law, the background check would have played out differently, with a potentially very different outcome.
“If Dylann Roof lived in a state with a permit-to-purchase law, he would have had to go to local or state police to get a permit, and most likely he would have been denied because these agencies often have better access to records used in background checks. To get a handgun, he would have had to find a private seller who would be willing to break the law and make a sale to someone without a permit, or he would have had to procure one on the underground market. Many people assume that dangerous individuals, like Roof, who want guns will invariably be able to get them regardless of handgun sales laws. But the research indicates otherwise. Dylann Roof was no criminal mastermind with extensive resources. He was able to carry out his plot because our gun laws made it easy for him to do so.”
Webster’s own research shows that handgun purchaser permit laws are one of the most effective tools available to reduce gun violence. A 1995 Connecticut law requiring a permit or license in order to purchase a handgun was associated with a 40 percent reduction in the state’s firearm-related homicide rate. And Missouri’s 2007 repeal of its handgun license law was associated with a 25 percent increase in its firearm homicide rates.
Webster is one of the nation’s leading experts on firearm policy and the prevention of gun violence. He is co-editor of Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (JHU Press, 2013). He has published numerous articles on firearm policy, youth gun acquisition and carrying, the prevention of gun violence, intimate partner violence and adolescent violence prevention.