Wait a Minute


The general attitude toward the Brady Bill, which would establish a national, seven-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns, was probably best expressed by a supporter quoted in USA Today. "I like the idea of a waiting period," he said, "but I don't see how it will do any good."

A new study from the Colorado-based Independence Institute shows that such doubts are well-founded. David B. Kopel, a Denver attorney and gun-control expert, demonstrates that even the relatively modest claims of Brady Bill supporters do not stand up under close scrutiny.

Kopel carefully dissects the argument that a waiting period would have prevented John Hinckley's attempted assassination of President Reagan, the main impetus for the bill. He notes that Hinckley had no felony record and no public record of mental illness. Contrary to the assertion of Handgun Control Inc., it appears that Hinckley was indeed a resident of Texas, where he purchased the weapon, as required by law.

More generally, Kopel writes, "criminologists of every persuasion have examined waiting periods, and not one has found statistically significant evidence that waiting periods are effective." Criminals can readily obtain weapons by buying them on the black market, by stealing them, or asking acquaintances without felony records to buy them. "Of all guns acquired for crime," Kopel says, "only about 0.5% to 2% are personally bought at a retail outlet by a person with an existing criminal record who does not already have another gun."

Thus a waiting period coupled with a background check is a very inefficient way of preventing crime, one that would take police away from more-productive activities, such as street patrol. Kopel estimates that background checks would consume at least 7.5 million police hours a year; each resulting arrest would cost about $40,000.

The main effect of a waiting period would be to delay, and in some cases improperly prevent, the acquisition of handguns by law-abiding citizens. Citing actual cases, Kopel shows that even a one-week delay can be the difference between life and death for people who need a gun for self-defense. Moreover, he estimates that some 725,000 people would be mistakenly denied permission each year because of incomplete records.

Kopel concludes that supporters of the Brady Bill have failed even to show that the benefits of a waiting period would outweigh its costs. They have certainly not met the traditional burden of proof for measures that infringe on constitutional rights.