Simply by its passing, Brady bill is a success

November 26, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- The backers of the Brady bill almost fell into a trap of their own making.

From its inception, the Brady bill has been a mild form of gun control.

A waiting period before one can buy a handgun is not expected to wipe out crime in America.

But the very moderation of the Brady bill accounts for some of its popularity:

A recent Louis Harris Poll showed that 89 percent of all Americans favor the Brady bill and a Gallup Poll showed that even 80 percent of gun owners favor it.

The bill, finally passed by Congress on Wednesday, gives authorities five working days to see if a potential handgun purchaser is a felon, escaped convict, etc.

Originally, however, the Brady bill was conceived of as a cooling off period to keep anybody, even non-felons, from buying a handgun in the heat of passion.

But a cooling-off period proved much more controversial than a background check.

Many gun owners, who can see why criminals shouldn't be able to buy guns, don't see why honest citizens should be prevented from instantly buying a gun to protect themselves.

So the background check, and not the cooling off period, became the way the Brady bill was sold to the American people and to Congress.

But this strategy contained a trap: If a background check was the reason for the Brady bill, why not make the background check instantaneous and avoid the five-day waiting period altogether?

Which is exactly what opponents of the Brady bill have used to block it for years. They say they want an "instant check" system, where all the gun seller has to do is dial up a person on the computer and find out if he is a bad guy.

And this year the Brady bill became hung up between those who wanted to phase out the Brady bill in five years in favor of an instant check and those who wanted to phase it out in four.

But will America really have an instant check system in four or five years?

One big advantage of the Brady bill is that it's cheap. But instant computer checking is expensive.

In 1991, a congressionally ordered report said such a system would take five years to construct and cost $5 billion. Then a separate report by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment said it would take up to 10 years to build.

But the arguments that will be advanced in four or five years when the Brady bill is due to expire can be predicted now.

Opponents of the Brady bill will say: "It has been a failure. Murder has continued to increase in America. We don't need it and an instant computer check is too expensive."

Proponents of the Brady bill will say: "More than 100,000 felons, convicts and lunatics have been prevented from getting a gun because of the Brady bill. Each one is a potential murderer that has been stopped. We need to continue the Brady bill."

And we will probably be back to where we started.

But more national gun laws are necessary, even if each does just small amounts of good. The case of James Brady shows why:

In 1968, Congress banned the importation of cheap foreign handguns. So what happened? A German company set up a factory in Miami, imported the gun parts and assembled them here to skirt the law.

That Miami factory produced 15,000 to 20,000 handguns per month and John Hinckley bought one of them.

And on March 30, 1981, he shot James Brady, Ronald Reagan, a Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia police officer with it.

You can still see, if you look closely, a slight depression in the skull above Brady's left eye. That is where the bullet entered, TC clipped the left lobe of his brain and then passed into the right lobe.

I talked to him a few months ago.

"When I first came to Capitol Hill, I said I didn't want sympathy or pity," Brady said.

"Congress has the power to prevent what happened to me from happening to others," he said.

And then, a little wistfully, he added: "I was at the top of my career. This thing changed everything for me. But I was lucky. I survived a gunshot wound to the head. I live a productive life. But one out of every five murder victims is under the age of 20.

"We need this bill for the kids. They deserve a future."

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