Colorado shooting: What is ‘Charleston loophole’? Why US needs stricter gun laws?

Published on Mar 23, 2021 08:48 PM IST

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren called on Democrats to get rid of the filibuster and pass gun safety legislation, adding that a huge majority of Americans support it.

Healthcare workers walk out of a King Sooper's Grocery store after a gunman opened fire on March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colorado.(AFP)
Healthcare workers walk out of a King Sooper's Grocery store after a gunman opened fire on March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colorado.(AFP)
By | Written by Kunal Gaurav, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Multiple mass shootings across the United States within a week, particularly the Monday incident in a Colorado supermarket which claimed 10 lives, have resulted in a renewed call for stricter gun laws. In 2021, there have been at least six mass shooting incidents with four or more killed, including spa shootings in Georgia which killed six Asian American women. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren took to Twitter to call on Democrats to get rid of the filibuster and pass gun safety legislation, adding that a huge majority of Americans support it.

“Week after week, month after month, year after year – the gun violence doesn't end. And things won't get better until Democrats get rid of the filibuster and finally pass gun safety legislation that a huge majority of Americans support. What are we waiting for – another tragedy?” she tweeted.


US House of Representatives, led by Democrats, recently passed two bills aimed at strengthening federal gun laws while the majority of Republicans opposed the legislation. The first bill, passed with 227-203 votes, would provide for background checks on all firearms sales and transfers, including those purchased over the internet, at gun shows and through certain private transactions.

'Charleston loophole'

The second bill, passed in the House with only two Republicans supporting it, would close the so-called “Charleston loophole”. Apart from the age limit, certain individuals, including those with felony convictions and prison sentence exceeding one year or guilty of unlawfully possessing controlled substances within the past year, are prohibited from purchasing firearms under the Gun Control Act of 1968.

In the vast majority of cases, the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) returns a definitive result when an individual submits to a background check for purchasing a gun. However, in some cases, the system fails to make an immediate determination on the eligibility of the prospective buyer.

Under the current law, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) gets only three business days to probe the submission and if the agency doesn’t conclude the investigation in the stipulated time period, the gun seller gets the discretion of proceeding with the firearms sale.

In 2015, a shooter with a criminal history misused this loophole of “default proceed” sales to purchase firearms and went on to commit a hate crime at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine worshippers at the historic African American church.

Democrats are hoping to close this loophole through the second bill by giving authorities 10 business days for federal background checks before a gun sale can be licensed. Although Democrats control the 100-members Senate with 50 seats plus a tie-breaker vote of vice president Kamala Harris, the bill, like most legislation, would need 60 votes to end the debate to go for a full vote on the Senate floor. This procedure allows senators to filibuster and debate the bill endlessly to stall the vote.

In order to eliminate the filibuster, all 50 Democratic senators have to be on board with the plan but at least two Democrats - Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema - have opposed the idea of ending the procedure. With sweeping voting rights, strongly backed by Biden, also facing the roadblock of the filibuster, the US Senate is rapidly moving towards a showdown over the procedural manoeuver.

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