Brady Act Has Little To Do With Reducing Crime, Report Shows

By Cheryl K. Chumley
CNS Staff Writer

( - One of the Clinton Administration's most aggressive legislative efforts, the gun-restricting Brady Act, has produced almost no affect on the overall murder and suicide rates, according to a recent medical journal report, but Attorney General Janet Reno says more study is needed to judge the true impact of the law.

"We're willing to say that we need to do more study here," Reno was quoted as saying in an Associated Press article Friday. "We are getting better at evaluating what works and what doesn't work. We're getting better at identifying crime problems, but we must continue to do everything we can to make it as exact as we can."

But the findings were no surprise to "More Guns, Less Crime" author John Lott, who cites statistics to prove that the states with the least restrictions on handguns are those with the lowest firearms crime rates.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was signed into law in November 1993 and took effect in February 1994. It provided for a waiting period before a handgun could be purchased and implemented a national background check system for all potential buyers.

A report from Dr. Jens Ludwig of Georgetown University and Dr. Philip J. Cook of Duke University, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that in the states included in the study, only suicides decreased slightly in a certain age group because of Brady Act legislation but homicide rates were not affected.

"Based on the assumption that the greatest reductions in fatal violence would be within states that were required to institute waiting periods and background checks, implementation of the Brady Act appears to have been associated with reductions in the firearm suicide rate for persons aged 55 years or older but not with reductions in homicide rates or overall suicide rates," the conclusion section of the JAMA report stated.

Cato Institute policy analyst David B. Kopel, in an article in Friday's Wall Street Journal, cited another study, conducted by the Police Foundation, which found that as of 1996, Americans owned 230 million guns, a record number. Kopel also reported that firearm deaths continue to decline, and have in fact "fallen to the lowest level since the 1960s."

Lott, whose second edition of "More Guns, Less Crime" was released just recently and includes information detailing "the impact of the Brady Act from 1996 on," said it was no revelation to discover that statistics revealing deaths due to firearms were lowest in states with the least restrictions on weapons possession.

"The bottom line is guns save lives," said Lott, who is currently a senior research scholar at the School of Law, Yale University. "They also make it easier to prevent [crimes]."

Lott's published findings differ from the JAMA report in one significant way, he said: His rates the affect of the Brady Act on murder while the JAMA report analyzes homicide.

"Homicide includes if you use a gun in self defense, like if somebody broke into your house, and you killed them," Lott said. "I would argue that if you care about crime, the best way to do that would be to look at crime, which is murder."

Another report released by the National Center for Health Statistics would seem to prove the Brady Act's effectiveness in that its statistics indicate deaths among children and teens due to firearms has decreased "sharply," but Lott said those numbers could be credited to "natural" reasons. The NCHS report detailed 10 percent fewer children under the age of 20 died in 1998 from firearms than in 1997, and 35 percent fewer died by gunfire in 1998 than in 1994.

"I have looked at that," Lott said, in answer to whether the Brady Act contributed to the decrease in deaths. "But there's just a natural drop we've been observing over this last century. I don't think it has anything to do with laws. In fact, there [are] lots of things going on. Incomes are rising, education changes, and I think people have more to lose by making mistakes [with storage of weapons in reach of children] than they did 100 years ago."


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