Making Sense of Nonsense: What is a "Juvenile" Brady Bill?

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

Recently on "Meet the Press," Rahm Emanuel, senior adviser to the president for policy and strategy, advocated extending the Brady Gun Control Bill to juveniles. My reaction was a mix of amusement, outrage and bewilderment. This is a common reaction I have to ridiculous statements. What did he mean by a "Juvenile Brady Bill?"

It could be that Mr. Emanuel is ignorant of the nation's of gun laws. The Brady Bill gives local law enforcement officials five working days to run a required background check on prospective handgun buyers in order to stop the sale of handguns to convicted felons and the insane. Of course the Brady Bill doesn't apply to juveniles because Federal law prohibits the sale of handguns to anyone under 21. And unlike stories of minors able to trick a clerk and buy some beer, minors do not buy handguns over the counter. Could a designated spokesman for the president on gun issues not know that juveniles are not allowed to legally buy guns, so the Brady Bill does not apply to them?

Maybe Mr. Emanuel was only admitting the truth of what gun rights advocates have consistently argued: that the crime problem in America stems not from too many guns in the hands of citizens but from too few. After all research has shown that crime has gone down fastest in areas with a high percentage of gun ownership and with more liberal right-to-carry laws. Indeed, one of the recent school shootings ended because an armed teacher captured the youthful assassin.

Based on this evidence, perhaps Mr. Emanuel was hinting at a major policy shift - to allow youths to purchase handguns so long as they go through a waiting period and background check. In the light of the Clinton Administration's previous record on gun issues, this seems an unlikely, if amusing, possibility.

On the other hand, maybe Mr. Emanuel is admitting that what critics and criminals have long known: the Brady Bill is "juvenile." Brady treats law abiding adults as juveniles by not allowing them to get a gun until after a government imposed "cooling off" period. This policy has sometimes had tragic results - people have been killed by criminals and abusive (ex) spouses or lovers while waiting for Brady approval. In addition, Brady treats criminals as terminally stupid, which they are not. Various studies have shown that the most criminals do not buy guns through retail outlets - the vast majority of the guns they use are stolen. And because the felons who have foolishly tried to buy guns over the counter since Brady's advent have not been prosecuted by the Federal government, it is unlikely the Brady Bill has either prevented criminals from getting guns or reduced crime.

Most likely the call to extend the Brady Bill to juveniles was purely political. Mr. Emanuel, in classic Clintonite fashion, claims a law is "for the children," even though the law has nothing to do with kids. By linking the words "juvenile" and "Brady Bill," he simultaneously plays on people's fears of juvenile "super-predators" and on the emotions of those who believe that the Brady Bill has reduced crime, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. If the Republican Congress rejects the call for a Juvenile Brady Bill, the Clinton administration will argue that it is soft on crime, does not care about children and is protecting the "powerful" gun lobby. Voila', instant election year issue.

Will the press call Mr. Emanuel down on his gaffe - like they called down Dan Quayle when he misspelled potato? Probably not. When Mr. Emanuel called for extending the Brady Bill to juveniles, rather than asking for a clarification, Tim Russert, the show's host, let the statement pass by unchallenged. Score one for the Clinton Administration against common sense and against an inattentive or uninformed press corp.

Maybe next the Clinton administration will propose mandatory driver license suspension for everyone under 15 who plays hooky.