The House Judiciary Committee's vote this week in favor of the Brady bill is good news. That's the bill named after James Brady, Ronald Reagan's press secretary who was shot and crippled in a 1981 presidential assassination attempt. The bill requires a seven-day waiting period to allow police to check a handgun purchaser's background. Had such a law been in effect in 1981, John Hinckley would not have been able to buy the gun he used and may not have been able to buy any gun.
This 23-11 vote in the Judiciary Committee follows Ronald Reagan's ringing endorsement of such legislation and George Bush's conditional endorsement of it. That is not the only good news on the gun control front this month. Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh earlier told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Bush administration will now accept a broader ban on assault weapons than it had been willing to previously. In both instances, the administration wants a quid pro quo: passage of a tough anti-crime bill. This ought to be achievable. The administration and Democrats in Congress are not that far apart on the other elements of the crime bill.
Despite the good news, no one doubts the clout of the National Rifle Association. All predict a very close vote on the Brady bill. Maryland representatives, we are pleased to note, are almost all lined up to support it. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who voted in effect to kill the bill two years ago, now says she would vote for it under certain circumstances. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest says he supports it; he replaced one of the other Marylanders who opposed the bill in 1988, Roy Dyson. Only Rep. Beverly Byron still opposes it.
Her Western Maryland district is largely rural and small town. She has many constituents who are hunters. But no more so than Representative Gilchrest has in his sprawling Eastern Shore-Southern Maryland-Harford County district. The true local self-interest vote for Ms. Byron would be "yes" on the Brady bill. State law already requires a seven-day waiting period for gun purchasers. Until there is a national law, Western Marylanders who have no reason to fear a police check during the seven-day period but who want to buy a handgun in a hurry will just drive over to Virginia or West Virginia or Pennsylvania.
Maybe Representative Byron ought to discuss this further with her gun-dealer constituents. We wouldn't be surprised if they were ready to break ranks with the NRA on this one.