The Federal Bureau of Investigation is planning a major addition to the gun background check system, years after examiners’ failure to locate critical information allowed a white supremacist to buy the gun he used to murder nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., reports The Trace. Within about two years, background check examiners will have the option to query a vast, previously untapped database of law enforcement records when vetting potential gun buyers. The National Data Exchange, or N-DEx, which is maintained by the FBI, houses more than 400 million records, including incident and arrest reports and probation and parole documents. The FBI began exploring the possibility of using N-DEx in 2015, after an internal review found that Charleston gunman Dylann Roof would have been blocked from legally acquiring his murder weapon had examiners been able to tap it.
Stephen Morris, who ran the FBI’s background check division at the time Roof bought his gun, said he has long pushed to give examiners access to N-DEx. “If there is a system that can be searched, we should be searching it,” he said. In June, a federal judge in South Carolina who dismissed wrongful death lawsuits against the bureau by the victims’ families, assailed the FBI for not querying the database when evaluating the fitness of gun buyers. He called the omission “simple nonsense.” As the FBI considered the switch, the bureau’s Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Policy Board conducted a pilot study encompassing more than a million gun background checks. It found that with N-DEx added to the tools for vetting purchasers, two dozen gun buyers who would have been waived through were instead kept from acquiring guns they aren’t allowed to have. Seven more were flagged for further research.