Pro-con Brady Bill: Brady Bill Will Soon Be Dead-Do Not Resuscitate!

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

Named after Jim Brady, the Reagan press secretary who was shot in an attempt on the president's life, the Brady Bill requires local law enforcement agencies to run background checks on prospective handgun buyers to stop the sale of handguns to convicted felons and people adjudicated insane, and gives law enforcement five working days to run the background check.

The waiting period, the provision of the bill that most troubles gun rights defenders, lapses on November 30. The mandatory background check has already been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Replacing these provisions will be an instant check system whereby all prospective gun buyers will have their criminal and mental histories checked while they wait. The new system, long supported by gun rights advocates, is quicker and more comprehensive, since it also applies to long-gun purchases.

Brady supporters are demanding that Congress implement a three-day waiting period on gun purchases - known as Brady-lite - even after the instant check system is universally adopted. As proof of its success, they often cite President Clinton's November 1997 claim that Brady has blocked more than 250,000 handgun sales to felons and the mentally incompetent since its inception. Unfortunately, President Clinton has again "misled" the American people. Department of Justice statistics show that only 186,000 firearms sales had been blocked when Clinton made his statement. And even this figure has problems, since more than 100,000 of these blocked sales were in states with instant check systems and not a result of the Brady Bill. In addition, several states have reported that the figures for their states were mistakenly high - in Indiana by 1,300 percent.

When innocent citizens are wrongfully denied their right to obtain a firearm in a timely fashion, the results are sometimes tragic. For example, when Phillip Coleman of Shreveport, Louisiana, attempted in 1995 to purchase a handgun for self-defense, the sale was mistakenly rejected. Coleman appealed the decision, pointing out the error. Unfortunately, he was shot to death outside of his work while his application was still pending. Three days after his murder, the approval arrived by fax.

Brady has done little or nothing to stop felons from either getting guns or reducing crime. Figures from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms show that fewer than 7 percent of the guns used in a crime are bought over the counter from legitimate firearms dealers. The other 93 percent are stolen or bought on the black market, and Brady does not affect such sales.

When polled, more than 85 percent of America's police chiefs believed that Brady had not prevented a single felon from obtaining a handgun in their jurisdiction.

And the General Accounting Office found that of the first 70,000 felons caught attempting to buy guns over the counter, fewer than one in 1,000 were prosecuted, only seven were convicted and only three served time - and none of these prosecutions involved felons previously convicted of violent offenses.

By contrast, just two states, Virginia (with more than 400 arrests) and South Carolina (with more than 200 arrests), with instant check systems nab more criminals attempting to buy guns from licensed dealers in a given year than all the 32 original Brady states combined.

When Brady was originally debated, its supporters argued that "if it saves just one life, the inconvenience will be worthwhile." Maybe. But since there are clear cases where Brady has cost innocent lives and no evidence that it has saved even a single life, if anything has to die it probably should be the Brady Bill.