Congress is being stampeded into gun control legislation that will cause violent crime to rise. As long as lawmakers continue to ignore the economics of crime and the incentives faced by criminals, crime will continue its rapid expansion.
Sarah Brady, the frontispiece for Handgun Control, is one of the most successful demagogues of all time. By capitalizing on her husband's disabling gunshot wound during the attempted assassination of President Reagan by John Hinckley, she has pulled on Reagan's heartstrings and enlisted his support of the Brady bill, legislation that requires a federal seven-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns.The pressure is now on President Bush to reverse his opposition and to climb on the Brady bandwagon.
Just like we got rid of the drug problem by a federal ban on drugs, Sarah Brady has succeeded in convincing millions of Americans, including normally intelligent ones, that "gun violence" can be ended "by a seven-day waiting period, which can prevent felons, drug addicts and the mentally disturbed from buying handguns."
This claim, which is refuted by endless expert criminological studies (and the privacy of medical and psychiatric records), has become the new panacea for the crime problem. Never mind any documented facts.
A waiting period cannot succeed in keeping guns out of felons' hands when few criminals acquire guns by purchasing them from gun stores in the first place. On the rare occasion when they do, they usually use a clean family member, friend or alias.
Neither can a waiting period succeed when the majority of criminals have no criminal record. Most criminals are not apprehended. Most of those who are caught are not brought to trial. Most of those tried have no felon records because they reduce their crimes to misdemeanors with plea bargains - as did Patrick Purdy, who had a clean record despite arrests for extortion, weapons charges, drug charges, robbery and receipt of stolen property.
Purdy went through California's 15-day waiting period and police background check, bought his guns and killed five school children.
The really puzzling thing about the Brady bill is how a bill that mandates a federal waiting period, but purports not to mandate a background check, can keep guns out of anyone's hands. The real success of the Brady bill is that it has spooked the National Rifle Association into supporting a real gun-control bill - the Felon Handgun Purchase Prevention Act. Unlike the meaningless Brady bill, the NRA bill mandates the automation of criminal records so as to permit an instantaneous background check.
If the NRA's bill became law, no felon would be able to legally purchase a gun. All to no effect, of course, as felons have other preferred methods of acquiring guns.
Many supporters of the Brady bill openly admit their real goal is to take guns away from everyone and that the Brady bill is the camel's nose under the tent. But if the Second Amendment can be cavalierly discarded in the name of a "higher purpose," so can the First and all other constitutional amendments.
We are treading on extremely dangerous ground for the sake of bills that will not reduce crime or the supply of guns in criminal hands.
Gun control only has implications for law-abiding citizens. They will lose the ability to defend themselves and become more vulnerable in our crime-ridden society.
(Paul Craig Roberts is the William E. Simon professor of political economy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington and is a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.)