The Brady Bill -- and More

May 16, 1991

The Brady bill is a third of the way to becoming law. The House of Representatives has approved it. The next third is Senate passage. Then the president must sign the measure. If gun control advocates really want enactment, it is now theirs for the asking.

There is a catch. In return for a promise not to veto the bill, President Bush wants Brady in a crime package that includes some controversial measures. The president wants the law to allow the use of certain improperly-seized evidence in criminal trials. He also wants to restrict severely the right of state prisoners to seek habeas corpus relief in federal court. He also wants to make some 40 federal offenses capital crimes.

Many in the anti-gun coalition oppose these measures -- and would rather not have a gun bill at that price. Many, but not all. The gun control coalition includes liberals and conservatives. For the most part it is the liberals who don't think the Brady bill is worth this. We feel they are wrong, even though we agree with them that the three priority elements in the package are objectionable.

Let us be realistic. The Supreme Court already has limited habeas procedures almost as much as the administration bill. As for the use of improperly-seized evidence, the court has already said that in certain cases such evidence can be used. If a new law goes too far and encroaches on constitutional rights, the court can correct it.

As for re-instating death penalties for federal crimes (such as murder of a poultry inspector, for example), it is silly nonsense, since in most cases state law would probably take precedent (it is as much a capital offense in Maryland to murder a poultry inspector as it is to murder anybody else). But for that very reason the bill is not worth fighting about.

Especially if in return the Brady bill is signed into law. And not only Brady. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh has said that in return for passage of its crime package, the administration would accept a Democratic-proposed ban on 14 domestically produced assault weapons.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has indicated he is willing to negotiate a compromise on these issues to get the two gun control elements. He has some ideas about habeas appeals that the administration should be willing to incorporate and that his fellow liberals should be willing to swallow.

If doing something at the federal level about the availability of handguns and assault weapons is as important as gun control advocates say it is -- and it is -- this is not too great a price to pay for enactment.

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