The House Rules Committee meets today to decide if representatives will be allowed to vote on the "Brady bill." It is an indication of just how phony the so-called legislative process can be at times that representatives may not even get to vote the bill up or down.
The Brady bill requires a national seven-day waiting period for would-be purchasers of handguns. Maryland and about half the other states have waiting-period laws. The theory is that police may check up on the purchaser, to see if he or she is legally qualified under state law to own the firearm. Also, individuals in the grip of murderous emotion would have time to cool off.
Three years ago, the Brady bill was scheduled to be voted on by the House. With the approval of Rep. Tom Foley, D-Wash., then majority leader and now House speaker, the bill was derailed by a Republican substitute calling for a study of a system that would require gun dealers -- not the police -- to make an instant computer check of would-be purchasers' bona fides. There was no vote on the Brady bill itself.
Three years later, the Justice Department has reported that an instant-check system would cost over $5 billion and take another five years to put in place. A new Office of Technology Assessment study says it would take twice that long and cost many times that much, according to members of Congress who have seen it. Even if you accept the Justice estimate, the Brady bill is the way to go for now, since it would only be in effect until a workable instant-check system was in place.
A majority of House Democrats supports the Brady bill. Despite this, the Rules Committee today may -- again with the consent of the speaker -- approve a substitute bill proposed by Rep. Harley Staggers, D-W.Va. The bill calls for the instant-check system to be imposed within six months. What a sham! That is obviously impossible, even if Congress provided the funds, which it won't. The bill is a last-gasp effort by the National Rifle Association to defeat Brady. It staggers the mind to think anyone would take it seriously. Every living ex-president has come out for the Brady bill, and George Bush has promised to sign it as part of a deal to get his anti-crime bill.
If the Rules Committee and the speaker allow a repeat of the deceit of 1988, pass this substitute and deny members an up or down vote on Brady, they will deserve the public's contempt. It will prove once again that influential Democrats in Congress are as willing as Republicans to get in bed with conservative special interests -- in this case the NRA -- in return for campaign contributions and other forms of support.