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The urge to “do something” after the Charleston church attack inspires half-baked proposals.


Jacob Sullum | June 24, 2015

“If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown,” President Obamasaid on Friday, “we don’t know if it would have prevented what happened in Charleston.” Actually, we do know: Had the bill to which Obama was referring been enacted, it would not have stopped Dylann Roof from murdering nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church last week.

Obama’s comment reflects the magical thinking that horrific crimes like Roof’s seem to invite: If only we had adopted Policy X, this might not have happened. That tendency—driven by the understandable desire to “do something,” as Obama put it—is most conspicuous among supporters of gun control but is not limited to them.

Obama was talking about legislation proposed following the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut—in particular, “reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported,” meaning expansion of the background check requirement for gun buyers to include sales that do not involve federally licensed dealers. But as CNN reported the day of Obama’s remarks, Roof bought the .45-caliber Glock Model 41 pistol he used in the church attack from a Charleston gun store, which means he passed a background check.

There is no reason to think he wouldn’t, since Roof apparently did not have a criminal or psychiatric record that would have disqualified him from owning a gun under federal law. Although he wasarrested for illegal possession of Suboxone, a Schedule III narcotic, in February, the misdemeanor charge was not enough to bar him from buying a firearm.