Brady Law Works; Let It Be

The National Rifle Assn. has steadily opposed the Brady law, which requires a background check of potential gun buyers. Now, with a friendly majority in Congress, the pro-gun lobby is close to significantly weakening this vital crime control tool. The House passed legislation before its holiday recess that would require the FBI to destroy gun buyer records within 24 hours of the sale of a weapon, wiping out a database that police use to solve gun crimes and rescind some gun sales. The Senate will take up the NRA-drafted proposal this month, and senators who regularly declare themselves to be tough on crime will have no choice but to oppose it.

The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, approved in 1993, requires that would-be handgun buyers pass a national computer background check before they can walk out of the store with their new weapons. Prospective purchasers are barred if they’ve been convicted of a felony or domestic violence, are “mentally defective” or are the subject of a restraining order or arrest warrant.

The law has worked well so far. Ninety-one percent of the time, the person gets an instant green light to buy the gun; last year, the checks disqualified 136,000 dangerous or unstable people. That part of the law would remain untouched. However, federal law requires the Justice Department to keep those electronic records for 90 days. FBI agents combing through this data sometimes discover that incomplete or incorrect information let someone who can’t legally buy a handgun get one anyway. That’s how the FBI retrieved more than 18,000 firearms since 1994 from ineligible buyers, according to federal studies. Law enforcement agencies also use this database to trace recently purchased weapons used in crimes.

Supporters of requiring the FBI to purge its records daily, including sponsor Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), argue that the measure would protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens. By that reasoning, state motor vehicle departments should purge all data relating to licensed drivers.


Federal monitoring of firearm purchases has gotten faster and more accurate since the Brady law took effect. The FBI’s computer check system is based on records fed from local law enforcement agencies. Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton has declared: “I’m very opposed to this effort to make the Brady law toothless, and I just don’t understand how Congress members can even consider it. Obviously they haven’t shown up at the scene of enough officer shootings.”

The Brady bill works and there’s no reason to change it.