The U.S. Department of Justice is recommending a change in how background checks on gun purchases are conducted after an 18-year-old was allowed to illegally buy a shotgun in Colorado in a 2019 incident that closed hundreds of Front Range schools and led to a large manhunt.
The FBI should update its national background check system so gun dealers are able to verify age requirements for a buyer in that person’s home state and the state where the sale is being made, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in an audit report.
In April 2019, Sol Pais bought a one-way ticket to Denver from Miami and then traveled to a Littleton gun store, where she bought a pump-action shotgun and ammunition.
The FBI believed Pais might have been planning a school shooting tied to the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting because of an alleged fascination with the 1999 massacre, leading hundreds of schools along the Front Range to close as a precaution.
Two days after her arrival, Pais’s body was found off a trail on Mount Evans with the shotgun nearby. Authorities determined she likely died by suicide the day she arrived in Colorado.
Pais never should have been allowed to buy the shotgun because Florida law bans gun purchases for anyone younger than 21.
The Colorado gun dealer ran a background check on Pais through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and she was approved for the sale under Colorado laws. However, under federal law, she should have been denied the sale in Colorado because she did not qualify to own the weapon in her home state of Florida.
But the FBI’s electronic background check system doesn’t match up gun-ownership rules in two states when they should apply to a buyer. Instead, verification is left up to the gun dealers, the audit said, and there’s no backup when a dealer makes an error.
“We believe that improving the NICS system so that it automatically verifies an out-of-state purchaser’s eligibility under both the state-of-sale and the state-of-residence age requirements would reduce the risk of improper firearms sales under federal law,” the audit said.
The FBI agreed with the recommendation and said it will work with other agencies to make the necessary changes in its computer system. However, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives concluded that updating the background check system could lead to denials that do not violate state laws.
The inspector general also found the Colorado dealer who sold the gun had committed multiple past infractions on gun purchases. But those past violations did not involve the same problem that led to Pais’s gun purchase. And the ATF determined there was no way to hold the dealer accountable because the Florida law remains under litigation and the Florida attorney general never issued guidance on how to interpret the law, according to an ATF memo included in the audit.
The audit was requested by five Colorado congressmen in the wake of the incident.
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