Brady Gun Law Barely Impacts Homicide Rate

The 1994 Brady law, which required

handgun sellers to make background checks and institute waiting

periods for buyers, has had little impact on U.S. homicide and

suicide rates, researchers said Tuesday.

However, the waiting period that has since been phased out

did play a role in reducing the suicide rate for older

Americans, a segment of the adult population more prone to

suicide but less likely to own guns, their report said.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named for former

presidential press secretary James Brady, established a national

system of background checks and waiting periods for those buying

handguns from federally licensed firearms dealers. The law was

named for former presidential press secretary James Brady, who

was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President

Ronald Reagan.

President Clinton has frequently hailed the law for blocking

thousands of convicted felons from acquiring weapons that might

have been used to commit new crimes.

Researchers Jens Ludwig of Georgetown University and Philip

Cook of Duke University compared data on homicide and suicide

rates from 1985 through 1997, examining shifts since the Brady

law was enacted in 1994.

Eighteen U.S. states had similar gun control measures

already in place when the legislation was passed but the law

created new restrictions in 32 other states, which they

classified as “treatment states.”

“Our analyses provide no evidence that implementation of

the Brady Act was associated with a reduction in homicide

rates,” the researchers wrote in this week’s Journal of the

American Medical Association.

“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,” they wrote.

The study took account of the decline in U.S. homicide and

suicide rates for victims of all ages before the law went into

effect.

The authors said the law may have had an untold impact on

the secondary market for guns—illegal sales of guns on the

black market or by unlicensed dealers.

According to the study, a significant fraction of guns used

in crimes originated in other states where they were sold

legally but later found their way into the hands of criminals.

“As Ludwig and Cook acknowledge, direct evidence of the

impact of the Brady Act on interstate firearms trafficking does

not exist. It is badly needed,” Richard Rosenfeld of the

University of Missouri-St. Louis wrote in an editorial

accompanying the study.

The Brady Act’s effect on suicide rates was somewhat

clearer, but its impact was limited to seniors in states where

regulations were stiffened by the law.

The study suggested the provision in the law requiring a

waiting period appeared to be a key factor in reducing suicides

among older people. But that provision was phased out in

December 1998, with gun dealers now conducting instant

background checks, so seniors’ suicide rates may have climbed

back up, they said.

The findings “suggest that the shift away from waiting

periods could increase the firearm suicide rate (and potentially

the overall suicide rate) among older U.S. citizens,” they

wrote.

While background checks are effective in stopping handgun

sales to convicted felons, fewer sales are blocked to buyers

with a history of mental illness who might have a predisposition

to suicide, Rosenfeld wrote in his editorial.

Despite the study’s limitations and the need for more

research, Rosenfeld said “current knowledge does not warrant

relaxing or abandoning any of the Brady Act-type restrictions on

handguns.

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