In 1981, John Hinckley Jr. walked into a Dallas pawn shop, gave a false address, and walked out with the handgun that he used in the attempted assassination of President Reagan and that left Press Secretary Jim Brady paralyzed for the rest of his life.
Had the so-called "Brady Bill," which requires a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun, been in effect, Hinckley would have walked out empty-handed - and he would have ultimately been denied his gun because of the false address on his federal application form.Brady has since lent his name and his energy to the passage of the "Brady Bill," a sensible, moderate proposal in the war against violent crime. Reagan, a longtime member of the NRA, recently threw his support to the Brady Bill in a dramatic announcement.
After long thought - and a long personal tradition of resisting any legislation remotely resembling "gun control" - I also have decided to support the seven-day waiting period for handgun purchase, and I would like to explain my reasons for doing so.
First, although I prefer the idea of a national instantaneous background check, endorsed by the National Rifle Association, the reality is that we simply are not ready yet to implement that system - and will not be for years.
The Brady Bill is designed as an interim step until the instantaneous system is ready.
At that point, the Brady Bill will "sunset" and be superseded by the new system, as mandated by law in the 1988 McCollum Amendment, which I voted for as part of the 1988 Crime Bill. The Brady Bill also does not apply to states which have implemented their own instantaneous background check, such as Florida, Virginia and Delaware.
Second, records from the Department of Justice indicate that at least 21 percent of armed criminals obtain their guns through legal gun dealers. Admittedly, we will not eliminate all armed crime through the Brady Bill - that effort must also include imposing stiffer penalties for criminals who use guns. But we should be able to reduce violent crime through passage of the Brady Bill.
In New Jersey alone, over the last 20 years of background checks, more than 10,000 felons have been prevented from purchasing handguns. In Maryland in 1990, some 1,300 illegal handgun purchases were prevented by a seven-day waiting period. In every state with an instantaneous background check or waiting period, significant numbers of illegal purchases of handguns are prevented every year. We can make it more difficult for tens of thousands of criminals to obtain handguns.
Weighed against the minor inconvenience of a seven-day waiting period, isn't that goal worth the effort? I suppose it is true that some dedicated criminals may eventually find some other way to acquire a handgun even if a waiting period is implemented nationwide. But why make it easier for them?
Third, despite some misconceptions and inaccuracies, even in our Salt Lake newspapers, the Brady Bill only applies to handguns. Sporting rifle purchase is not affected. Sporting rifles are rarely used in the commission of a crime because of the difficulty of concealment.
Moreover, after the seven-day waiting period, all applicants who are not denied by reason of law will be able to purchase their handgun. No prospective buyer will wait any longer than that and approval cannot be arbitrarily delayed.
After 30 days, all records of the transaction will be destroyed unless the application is denied - a measure that should satisfy those who are concerned about the possibility of national handgun registration.
How can there be legitimate objection to the Brady Bill under these circumstances? Current law already prohibits felons, those adjudicated mentally ill, minors, illegal aliens and drug addicts from acquiring firearms.
The only problem is, we don't identify them. Thousands of criminals have been prevented from purchasing handguns in states that either have an instantaneous background check or a mandatory waiting period.
But in states that exercise no control, criminals can purchase guns, as John Hinckley did, and travel into states with more restrictive handgun laws.
A recent study by the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, "Project Identification," found that of all the handguns used in crimes in Detroit, only 8 percent were purchased in Michigan. Virtually all the rest were purchased in states without waiting periods or background checks. The same situation applied in New York City, where only 4 percent of the handguns were purchased in that state.
Poll after poll shows that the American people overwhelmingly support a waiting period before the purchase of handguns. A September 1990 Gallup Poll revealed that 95 percent of respondents nationwide favored a seven-day waiting period before purchasing a handgun in order to conduct a background check to determine if the prospective purchaser were a criminal or mentally ill. I suspect similar support for the Brady Bill exists in Utah as well.
When the NRA takes aim at the Brady Bill, it completely misses the target. I agree that the instantaneous background check the NRA favors is the best ultimate solution. But, until it can reasonably be successfully implemented, we would be foolish and shortsighted to reject an interim measure as sensible as the Brady Bill.