Law Enforcement

Sol Pais's Columbine High School Threat Reveals Major Gun Law Flaw

Photos of the late Sol Pais.
Photos of the late Sol Pais. File photos via Jefferson County Sheriffs Office

click to enlarge
Photos of the late Sol Pais.
File photos via Jefferson County Sheriffs Office
Back in April 2019, just a few days shy of twenty years after the attack on Columbine High School that killed twelve students and a teacher, fears that Sol Pais, an eighteen-year-old from Florida obsessed with the slayings, would attempt a massacre of her own led to the closure of schools across metro Denver.

Pais later took her own life. But her purchase of a shotgun in Colorado despite a law in Florida forbidding such a sale to anyone younger than 21 raised red flags — and now, more than two years later, a Federal Bureau of Investigation report prompted by the incident reveals a flaw in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that allowed it to happen.

The 34-page report was prompted by a July 23, 2019, letter from U.S. Representative Joe Neguse asking the feds to look into the matter. The FBI subsequently launched what it characterizes as an "audit" whose main two objectives were to determine "the circumstances under which the transfer of a firearm to a purchaser who did not meet the purchaser's home state legal age requirement occurred in Colorado during 2019, and how to mitigate the risks associated with prohibited firearm sales to out-of-state purchases" and "whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation appropriately evaluates Point of Contact (POC) state compliance with firearms background checks."

The audit subsequently revealed that "the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) does not automatically verify out-of-state purchasers' eligibility for firearms purchases under the age requirement of their state of residence. As a result, if an FFL [Federal Firearms Licensee] errs in assessing compliance with this age requirement, a firearm may be transferred in violation of federal law to an out-of-state purchaser that the purchaser was prohibited from buying by their home state."

The report includes a detailed chronology of Pais's purchase and concludes that changes are necessary in order to prevent a repeat of the incident. "To mitigate the risk of recurrence," one passage reads, "we recommend the FBI strengthen controls over the sale of firearms to out-of-state purchasers by updating the NICS background check to verify age requirements of an out-of-state firearm purchaser in both the purchaser's state of residence and the state of sale to ensure basic age eligibility."

Neguse praised the law enforcement agency for delving so deeply into his request, for identifying the problem that allowed Pais to obtain a weapon that caused so many negative repercussions, and for clearly stating a solution is needed.

"The April 2019 incident that led schools across the Front Range to be shut down was deeply frightening for our communities," he noted in a statement. "We’ve been working to find answers as to how this incident was able to happen and to fix holes in the background check system to ensure nothing like this can happen again. I am incredibly grateful to the FBI for heeding our request and completing this audit into Colorado’s point of contact system. The report’s findings give us insight into how these failures can be addressed so we can implement regulatory and legislative changes to better protect our communities in the future."

Click to read the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System audit.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts