Better Late Than Never

Former President Ronald Reagan has added his influential voice to the chorus of support for a federal law to control handguns. While one wishes Reagan had changed his stance on the so-called Brady Bill sooner, that’s less important than the fact that his considerable political clout could finally tip the scales in favor of its enactment.

Adding to the power of Reagan’s announcement was the symbolic time and place he chose to make it--during a reunion ceremony at George Washington University’s emergency medical center in Washington, D.C. Ten years before, almost to the day, Reagan had been rushed there for medical care after a deeply troubled young man had tried to assassinate him with a handgun. Also wounded in that assassination attempt were a Secret Service agent, a Washington policeman and Reagan’s press secretary, James S. Brady.

The Brady Bill is named for the former presidential aide, who was so grievously hurt by the bullet that struck him in the head that he’s been confined to a wheelchair ever since. He and his wife, Sarah, have been in the forefront of a citizens’ campaign to enact a federal handgun law.

The Brady Bill would require a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun. During that time local law enforcement authorities could--but aren’t required to--check the background of the buyer for criminal records or a history of mental problems. Had such a law been in effect 10 years ago, it might have prevented John Hinckley from getting his hands on the pistol he used against the President. Unfortunately, the logic of the bill has not swayed a relatively small group of overly zealous gun enthusiasts who continue to oppose it, insisting that any gun controls weaken the Second Amendment.

Reagan had the right reply to that rigidly ideological view when he said that “it’s just plain common sense that there be a waiting period” before anyone can buy a handgun. Exactly.

The Brady Bill was only 36 votes short of enactment in 1988. May the simple eloquence of Reagan’s plea sway enough members of Congress to enact it this time. And may it also persuade President Bush to sign it into law.