Supreme Court Decision In Brady Case First Volley in Coming Battle Over National Waiting Period and Background Check for Handgun Buyers

For Release: Friday, June 27, 1997

Today’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court that 1993’s Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act violates the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution foreshadows an inevitable debate in Congress over the value of the national five-day waiting period as well as the effectiveness of the proposed national “instant check” system.

The Court held that the law’s requirement that local law enforcement officials make a “reasonable effort” to determine if potential handgun purchasers fall into a prohibited category was an impermissible burden imposed by the federal government on state and local entities, a so-called “unfunded mandate.”

The decision, however, is merely the first salvo in the coming war over what form the Brady law will take in 1998. While the waiting period component of the law was left untouched by today’s Supreme Court action, it will nevertheless “sunset” in 1998. The Brady law, as passed by Congress, requires states to implement “instant check” systems to replace the current five-day waiting period. “Instant check” would in theory allow gun dealers to immediately conduct a background check on a handgun buyer. Once the “instant check” system goes into effect, however, the five-day waiting period goes out of existence. The waiting period, however, performs two irreplaceable functions: it allows for a “cooling off” period in cases where a handgun buy is made impulsively to perpetrate a crime of passion or to commit suicide; and it guarantees that law enforcement officials will have sufficient time to conduct a complete background of a purchaser and to answer any criminal or mental health questions left unresolved by the “instant check.”

Kristen Rand, director of federal policy for the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, an organization that conducts research and public policy development on issues related to firearms violence, states, “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is sure to spark an intense battle over the future of Brady’s waiting period and how background checks are performed. Now that the Supreme Court has voided the current system as the result of this gun lobby-backed lawsuit, Congress must step in and decide not only how to conduct background checks, but also how valuable the waiting period has been as the sun begins to set over the Brady Law.”

 

 

 

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