‘Their death is not in vain’: Loved ones of Charleston shooting victims take step toward justice

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The families of the victims in the 2015 racist attack at Mother Emanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston took a step toward justice for their loved ones on Thursday.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, the families acknowledged what the settlement means for the nation while saying the victory will never take the place of those lost in the 2015 tragedy.

“If I had the opportunity to bring Clementa back, I’d switch,” said Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of Sen. Clementa Pinckney. “You can all take the settlement, bring my husband back to me, bring their father back to them, because we had a nice life.”

Clementa Pinckney was a former South Carolina lawmaker and pastor at Mother Emanuel AME. He was one of nine people murdered by Dylann Roof in the 2015 racist terror attack.

“Most people you know, they always say ‘I want a good man in my life. I want a good household. I want a good family.’ I had that,” Jennifer Pinckney said. “They had an excellent father. I had an excellent husband and we worked together and we worked to raise our girls.”

She and the families of other victims said they are grateful for the $88 million Civil Rights settlement. It resolved their claims that the FBI was negligent when its background check failed to keep a gun out of the hands of Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist.

The racist crime caused South Carolina leaders to remove the Confederate flag from SC’s statehouse for the first time in decades.

Some say the 2015 tragedy and Roof’s conviction have opened eyes.

“In spite of the tragedy, in spite of the fact that I lost my wife and eight others at the Emanuel tragedy, it brought a city together, it brought a community together,” said Rev. Anthony Thompson, whose wife Myra Thompson was slain in the shooting. “It brought a church together and it is bringing a nation together and so their death is not in vain.”

Attorney Bakari Sellers said the settlement gives a black eye to racism in the country, and he said the money will be used to build up Black communities and create generational wealth.

The Department of Justice has worked on several changes since the massacre to combat gun violence at a federal level. The background check delay which allowed Dylann Roof to buy a gun is known as the Charleston loophole.

The FBI acknowledged mistakes were made in Roof’s background check, and said it led to changes in how it looks at criminal histories when running background checks. Internal reports say those changes included expanding what databases the FBI uses for background checks. It also updated how the bureau requests records from local law enforcement agencies.

This is all meant to make sure the background check is completed within a three-day time frame.

Federal law requires the FBI to complete the background check within three days before a dealer can sell the gun, but there are efforts now to change that law.

The sales are often known as default proceed sales. Gun reform advocates have been pointing to this case as a need to change federal gun laws.

So far, there haven’t been any changes at the federal level, but some states have passed their own legislation to allow more time for a background check before a buyer can get the gun.

The group Everytown for Gun Safety reports those states include North Carolina, but not South Carolina.

Gun rights advocates have spoken out against extending the timeframe, arguing it would lead to unfair delays for law-abiding gun owners.

(FULL PRESS CONFERENCE: Lawyers announce historic settlement reached with survivors, families of those killed in Charleston church massacre)