Pass the Brady Bill

March 01, 1993

If you pass the Brady bill, I'll sure sign it.

-- President Clinton.

With this short sentence in his address to Congress last month, President Clinton altered prospects for passage of the handgun-control proposal named for James Brady, the White House press secretary wounded in 1981's assassination attempt against President Reagan. The proposal had been bottled up for years by President Bush's insistence that it be tied to broader crime legislation. No longer. Mr. Clinton is ready to sign just as soon as Congress gets a simple, clean bill to his desk.

It may not be as simple and clean as the change in administrations might suggest. The National Rifle Association will use all its wiles to sidetrack the bill on the spurious assumption that it transgresses the Second Amendment provision on the right to bear arms. Although handgun controls were approved in the last Congress, the two chambers could not agree on broad crime legislation in which the Brady provision was included.

Legislators in the new Congress will have to be on guard against a beguiling NRA argument that the better approach would be establishment of "instant identification checks" that supposedly would enable an arms dealer to determine instantly whether ......TC customer has a criminal record. Just as easy as a credit card check, or so it is said.

Not so. Though the Brady bill has sunset provisions to end the five-day waiting period once 80 percent of state and federal criminal record files are current, our guess is Congress would think again. Why? Because the instant check, for all of its advantages, does not provide for the cooling-off period so necessary to overcome murderous emotions.

At present, a central national system for instant checks on criminal records is a chimera -- and will remain so for several years. According to Handgun Control Inc., the lobbying organization, only 39 states have 100 percent fully automated criminal names files, only 10 have criminal histories in their police computer banks, only six carry all of the final dispositions of listed criminal cases and only four enter final dispositions within seven days. (Maryland's criminal justice system, which already has state handgun laws that would exempt it from the Brady bill, ranks fairly well.)

So the nation has some way to go in developing a needed federal record system, and the Brady bill would allocate $100 million to the cause. Once achieved, however, cooling-off provisions would still help curtail the national slaughter. If the murder and maiming of thousands and the 12 years of Jim Brady's suffering mean anything, let the bill named in his honor pass quickly.

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