Briefline

Columbine copycat threat behind Rep. Crow’s push for proper background checks

By: - October 8, 2021 8:24 am

A potential buyer tries out a gun that is displayed on an exhibitor’s table during the Nation’s Gun Show on Nov. 18, 2016, at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Jason Crow is leading Colorado Democratic representatives in pressing the Department of Justice to ensure states comply with background checks for people attempting to purchase firearms out of state.

Crow, a Democrat who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, wrote a letter to Inspector General Michael Horowitz of the Department of Justice requesting more information regarding oversight of firearm transactions in point of contact states. These are states that require firearm dealers to conduct background checks through local or state agencies, which usually includes more informative state databases, in addition to federally-required database searches.

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“As you know, federal law prohibits the transfer of firearms to out-of-state individuals who do not meet their state requirements, and the woman was ineligible to purchase the firearm due to Florida’s age restrictions,” Crow wrote, referring to a 2019 incident when Sol Pais, 18, was able to purchase a firearm in Colorado, despite not meeting the age requirement to purchase one in Florida, where she lived. 

The letter was signed by Reps. Joe Neguse, of Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, Diana DeGette, of the 1st District, and Ed Perlmutter, of the 7th District. 

“Columbine, Aurora, Boulder — Colorado knows the pain of gun violence,” Crow tweeted on Sept. 29, referring to massacres at Columbine High School, an Aurora movie theater and, in March, a Boulder grocery store. “And in 2019, we were put in harm’s way again because of a failed out of state background check. No more.”

This is not the first time the Democratic representatives have tried to stop similar events from happening again. In a July 19, 2019, letter, Crow, Neguse, DeGette, Perlmutter, and Republican former Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado’s 3rd District requested the Justice Department investigate the FBI’s audit of point of contact background checks, and wrote that Pais should not have been able to purchase a gun in Colorado. 

While Colorado allows people 18 and older to buy long guns, Florida requires a person to be at least 21 to buy any firearm — and federal law requires “the sale, delivery, and receipt fully comply with the legal conditions of sale in both such States.” 

The gun store in Colorado that sold the gun to Pais said she had passed the required criminal background check, according to the letter. The representatives asked Horowitz to provide specific information on how Pais was able to wrongly pass the background check, and what can be done to ensure a situation like this does not happen again. 

A month after Pais was able to purchase a gun in Colorado, Crow introduced legislation which would require firearm dealers to ship rifles and shotguns to a licensed dealer in the home state of the person trying to buy a rifle or shotgun, the same way handguns are already regulated, according to Colorado Politics. The home state would then conduct a background check. On Feb. 1, Crow reintroduced the Closing the Loophole on Interstate Firearm Sales Act, that, if passed, would close the loophole that allows some people to “immediately obtain rifles and shotguns when traveling out-of-state.” The legislation is also known as the Colorado Loophole Act.

“Almost two years ago, children and families across our state were terrorized by the threat of yet another mass shooting, a tragedy that is all too familiar in Colorado,” Crow said in a Feb. 1 press release. “This threat could have been prevented by treating shotguns and rifles the same way we treat handguns. Common-sense gun safety efforts like the Colorado Loophole Act will make us safer by eliminating confusion among gun sellers and creating consistency across the board.” 

Following the 2019 letter, the DOJ completed an audit of the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The audit found that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation did conduct a background check through NICS, but the Colorado seller didn’t “independently assess the purchaser’s eligibility under Florida law.” 

“We agree with the audit’s recommendation that the FBI update the NICS background check system to verify age eligibility of out-of-state purchasers and hope it will be adopted without delay,” Crow wrote in last month’s letter. 

The letter also stated that the lawmakers were “concerned” by the audit’s findings that “three full and four partial (point of contact) states had failed to apply federal and state denial criteria in their NICS background checks at some point between 2011 and 2019.” Point of contact background checks are background checks that are conducted through local or state agencies, instead of directly through the FBI. State databases typically include information that may be incomplete in the FBI databases, such as outstanding felony warrants and domestic violence restraining orders, according to Giffords Law Center, an organization that works to end gun violence, co-founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. 

“Consistent and comprehensive background checks are critical for public safety, and there must be accountability when background check standards are not met,” Crow wrote. 

The search

Pais flew from Miami to Denver on April 15, 2019 — five days before the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. In 1999, at Columbine High School, two students killed 13 people and injured 24. At the time, it was one of the deadliest shootings in the country’s recent history. 

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. In Colorado, you can contact Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255.

On April 16, 2019, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook that Pais is “armed and considered to be extremely dangerous.” 

The Coloradoan reported that Dean Phillips, a special agent in charge for the FBI in Denver, described Pais as having an “infatuation” with the Columbine school shooting. 

“Background checks for firearm purchases save lives,” said Adzi Vokhiwa, the federal affairs director at Giffords, in last month’s press release from Crow’s office. “We are grateful to Congressman Crow and members of the Colorado delegation for their continued efforts to ensure that point of contact states properly apply federal and state denial criteria when conducting background checks.” 

During the search for the woman, who made a potential “credible and general” threat, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, several school districts closed, including Jefferson County Public Schools, Douglas County School District, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, and Boulder Valley School District

On April 16, the Colorado Department of Education tweeted that the Department of Public Safety recommended that all Denver metro areas “conduct a lockout and controlled release immediately.” On April 17, Adams 12 Five Star Schools issued a press release saying that district schools would be operating the next day with “heightened safety and security measures in place.” 

Pais was found dead on April 17.

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