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The Brady Bill

Has the Brady Bill Helped Reduced Violent Crime?

There are politicians and gun control proponents who claim the Brady Act was a factor in producing the visible drop in homicide and violent crime of the last several years (for a display of homicide rates, see chart). For example Bill Clinton said:

"I would close the gun show loophole, because the Brady bill has worked superbly. Its given us a 35 percent drop in gun crime and a 31 year low in the homicide rate, and kept a half a million people felons, fugitives, stalkers, from getting handguns." (April 12, 2000, NBCs Tom Brokaw discusses gun control with the president)
And Sarah Brady, Chairwoman of Handgun Control Inc., claimed:
"The new FBI report demonstrates that the significant drop in the homicide rate last year is clearly linked to new efforts at gun tracing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Brady Law, and state anti-gun trafficking initiatives such as Virginia's one-gun-a-month law." (Oct. 18, 1999 U.S. Newswire).
The first part of Sarah Brady's statement is true. "Gun tracing," which is directed at criminal activity, has proved to be very effective (see enforcing the laws we already have). However it is extremely doubtful that the "Brady Law" was "clearly linked" to a "significant drop in the homicide rate last year [1998]."

For example, California, which has had at least a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases since 1965 (see California's Handgun Waiting Period Law, 1952-1990: Did it Work?, by Clayton Cramer), experienced a greater decrease in its homicide rate (17.5%), in 1998, than the rest of the nation (7.4%). (FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 1997 and 1998)

Between 1991 and 1998, without implementing significant gun control legislation (see endnote), California's homicide rate dropped 48.9% versus 31.9% for the rest of the U.S.   Likewise, violent crime fell 34.8% in California compared to 23.2% for the rest of the nation. Even choosing a different year to start the comparison, such as 1993 (when the Brady Act was signed) or 1994 (when Brady became effective, February 28, 1994), homicide and violent crime declined faster in California than nationally (FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 1991-1998). Evidence indicates the Brady Act is not a significant factor in violent crime reduction, or as the case of California suggests, neither were any of the gun control measures that were enacted during the 90's. (The page containing the chart, cited in the first paragraph above, briefly mentions these other factors.)

A statistical analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (full text [PDF], Vol. 284 No. 5, August 2, 2000) found:

"Our analyses provide no evidence that implementation of the Brady Act was associated with a reduction in homicide rates. In particular, we find no differences in homicide or firearm homicide rates to adult victims in the 32 treatment states directly subject to the Brady Act provisions compared with the remaining control states."
Is the Brady Bill Worthless?

Although the Brady Bill doesn't appear to have caused a noticeable reduction in violent crime or homicides, it doesn't follow that the bill itself is useless. This media account reports 69,000 handgun sales were blocked in 1997 and, "more than three out of five sales were rejected because the buyer had a felony conviction or was under felony indictment.

According to an FBI report, National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS): The First Seven Months, the Interim Brady System (February 28, 1994 through November 30, 1998), "over 310,000 felons, fugitives, and other prohibited people" were prevented from getting handguns. And this NICS 2002 Operations Report, claims since the inception of NICS, there have been over 563,000 handgun denials.

Of course this doesn't mean all persons denied purchases were prevented from obtaining a firearm by other means, or that they were stopped from committing a crime with a different or no weapon. However, surely a number of crimes were averted due to the under-motivation of some potential criminals. Even though the evidence suggests waiting periods and instant background checks are not statistically significant factors in reducing violent crime, they do appear to have merit since they will thwart some crime, and in most cases involve no practical infringement of law-abiding gun owners' rights.

Although gun control skeptics such as James Bovard in a Washington Times op-ed column challenge the validity of Brady denial figures, the FBI's NICS report cited above (and issued about one-year subsequent to Bovard's column), states the FBI denied 49,160 purchases from November 30, 1998 through June 30, 1999. 6,896 appeals had been received to date (no report date is given). A decision had been reached in 5,169 cases with 3,823 having the denial sustained. Thus, if the new NICS system is a reliable indicator, the vast majority of firearms purchases rejected are valid denials.

Brady Enforcement

Prosecutions of Brady law violations have been miniscule. Despite a possible ten year sentence for felons attempting to purchase a firearm, Bovard's column tells us, "[t]he number of convictions from prosecutions for making false statements on Brady forms declined from 253 in 1994 to 36 in 1997. A 1996 General Accounting Office report quotes ATF and Department of Justice officials as viewing "Brady primarily as a means to deny purchases to criminals (Chapter 2, Section 4)." This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer (Sept, 9, 1999) highlights some of the issues in the debate between pro-enforcement forces and the Clinton administration. Other reasons given for lax enforcement are a lack of resources, many violators have not been convicted of violent crimes, and the "war on drugs."

How Could Anyone Oppose Such "Reasonable" Gun Control?

So why do many gun rights groups resist all gun control measures? Although GunCite does not speak for, or represent any gun rights organizations, the majority of citizens concerned about preserving gun rights would drop opposition to certain gun laws if the Second Amendment were treated as normal constitutional law. If you think this opposition is merely gun paranoia nonsense, please read "Nobody Wants to Take Your Guns."

More Brady Bill References

Other Viewpoints


Endnote:

In California, since about 1930, handgun purchases from a dealer are reported and retained by the California Department of Justice on a Dealer's Record of Sale (DROS) form, enabling background checks and the identification of purchasers.

Since 1991, legal private party firearms transactions require a DROS form, and the transactions must go through a licensed firearms dealer. The transaction records for handguns are retained, however non-prohibited rifle and shotgun transactions, which require a different DROS form, are not permanently retained.

The above could hardly have prevented or discouraged a significant number of illegal firearms transactions since it was already against federal law to transfer a firearm to a "prohibited" person (18 U.S.C. 922(d)). Also, it was and still is a felony to purchase a firearm from a dealer and transfer it to another person unless it is a gift (see page 15 of this ATF compilation).

It would be farcical to suggest that Calfornia's Basic Firearms Safety Instruction and Certificate law, effective from July 1, 1993, resulted in a significant drop in violent crime. Not even the state legislature mentioned reducing violent crime as an objective of this law (see previous link). With certain exceptions, a good for life (unless lost or damaged), Basic Firearms Safety Certificate is required by persons who purchase or transfer a handgun. One must either take an exam with 20-30 questions and correctly answer at least 75 percent of the questions, or watch a 2-4 hour instructional video.


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