Report: Murder Rates Remain Same in Tough Gun Law States

ByLindsey Tanner

C H I C A G O, Aug. 1, 2000 -- A new study finds that murder and suicide ratesdid not drop any faster in states that had to toughen their laws tocomply with the 1994 Brady Act to regulate handguns.

The study also reports, however, that fewer people 55 and olderused guns to kill themselves after the act took effect.

The findings provoked strong words on both sides of thegun-control debate; they were also questioned in an editorial thataccompanied the study in Wednesday’s Journal of the AmericanMedical Association. The AMA supported the Brady Act.

The National Rifle Association claimed the research supports thenotion that gun regulations like the Brady Act have no effect oncrime. Advocates of stricter gun laws said the study is not anappropriate measure of the success or failure of the Brady Act.

The findings follow research presented last week by the Centerto Prevent Handgun Violence, which estimates that 9,368 lives weresaved between 1994 and 1998 because guns were less available tocriminals.

Surprised by FindingsThe head of the center, Sarah Brady, is married to James Brady,for whom the act is named. Brady was the press secretary woundedand paralyzed in the 1981 assassination attempt on PresidentReagan.

As implemented in 1994, the Brady Act required licensed dealersto perform background checks and observe a five-day waiting periodbefore selling handguns. In 1998, instant background checksreplaced the waiting period requirement.

Eighteen states already met the Brady requirements in 1994.

The lead authors of the study, Georgetown University policyanalyst Jens Ludwig and Philip Cook of Duke University, examinednational statistics from 1985 through 1997 to compare the Bradylaw’s impact on crime in the 32 states that had to toughen theirlaws.

The authors noted that homicide and suicide rates had alreadybegun to decline nationwide before 1994, but they assumed thoserates would fall faster in “treatment states” — those that had toadopt new laws to comply.

Instead, they found no overall difference — except that gunsuicides dropped 6 percent among people aged 55 and older in thetreatment states, Ludwig said.

NRA Argument Supported?Reductions in suicides also were seen in other age groups butthe numbers were not statistically significant, Ludwig said.Suicides are comparatively common in older adults, so it’s notsurprising that the biggest impact would be found in that agegroup, he said.

National Rifle Association spokeswoman Kelly Whitley said thestudy “proves what the NRA has been saying all along. Legislationlike the Brady Act … has no impact on the criminal misuse offirearms.”

But Ludwig acknowledged that the research was not designed toanalyze the Brady Act’s indirect impact on what is known as thesecondary gun market — gun sales by unlicensed dealers — whichexperts say is the source of a significant number of weapons usedin crimes.

The findings show “the importance of extending regulations likethe Brady Act to secondary market sales,” Ludwig said.

Study ScrutinyThe editorial in JAMA, written by a crime expert not involvedwith the new study, questioned the meaning of the research andcalled the Brady Act “the most important national policyinitiative related to firearms in over two decades.”

The editorial’s author, Richard Rosenfeld of the department ofcriminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri inSt. Louis, said the study was limited by a lack of evidence of theBrady Act’s impact on firearm trafficking from state to state andby its failure to examine the secondary gun market.

He said the examination of the law’s impact on suicide was astrong point of the research.

“Knowledge of how primary market regulations affect thesecondary firearms market is the single most important next step inresearch on how the Brady Act and similar strategies affect levelsof criminal violence in the United States,” Rosenfeld wrote.

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