Dem urges DOJ probe into shooters’ gun purchases
© Greg Nash

Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineSenate Dems introduce bill to block release of 3D printed gun blueprints States sue Trump administration to block 3D printed guns House GOP refuses to boost funding for election security MORE is asking the Justice Department to investigate how the national background check system didn’t prevent shooting suspects in Charleston, S.C. and Louisiana from buying guns.

The Rhode Island Democrat formally asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open a formal probe of how John Russell Houser, the suspect in a shooting last week at a Lafayette, La., movie theater, and Dylann Roof, who allegedly opened fire at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., managed to slip through the background check system despite respective histories of mental health problems and a drug arrest.

“It is tremendously disturbing that two men with evil intent to do such harm to others were able to purchase firearms freely, despite the presence of such obvious disqualifying factors,” Cicilline wrote in a Monday letter to the attorney general.

A Georgia judge had ordered Houser to be involuntarily committed for mental health treatment in 2008 after his family accused him of erratic behavior. Houser had also been denied a conceal weapons permit in Alabama in 2006 because of arson and domestic violence allegations against him. Federal law prohibits anyone who has been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment from possessing guns.

The FBI said this month that Roof was able to legally buy a gun used to kill nine parishioners at the historically black church because of a failure of the national background check system. Roof admitted to a drug possession charge earlier this year, but was not convicted. Bureaucratic error and local prosecutors’ failure to respond to the FBI’s request for more details about the drug case ultimately allowed Roof to proceed with the purchase.

FBI Director James Comey has ordered a 30-day review into how the federal background check system broke down in preventing Roof from buying a gun. 

Cicilline acknowledged that Congress is unlikely to enact tougher gun laws in the aftermath of both shootings, but said the Justice Department could identify any existing problems with the system.

“In the absence of meaningful action from Congress, I am hopeful that the Obama administration may be in a position to take action that will help prevent future tragedies,” Cicilline said. 

Three high-profile mass shootings, including the attacks in Charleston and Lafayette, have come to the attention of Congress over the last month. A coalition of lawmakers, including at least two Democrats, have called for allowing military personnel to carry weapons on bases in the aftermath of the shootings in Chattanooga, Tenn.