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Jewish World Review August 9, 2000 / 8 Menachem-Av, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

The Brady Bill isn't achieving its aim -- A NEW STUDY on one of the most important pieces of gun-control legislation ever enacted in America are in, and they show - drum roll please - that it's had no effect on homicide rates.

That's right. The Brady Bill of 1993, named for President Reagan's press secretary who was debilitated in a 1981 assassination attempt on the president, inaugurated waiting periods and background checks on all prospective gun buyers. The sweeping legislation, according to many of its backers, would cause a significant drop in homicides and other gun-related crime in America. Upon its signing at a ceremony filled with self-congratulatory fanfare, President Clinton declared it "step one in taking our streets back."

Flash forward, and the authors of a study just reported in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) conclude that "our analyses provide no evidence that implementation of the Brady Act was associated with a reduction in homicide rates." (The American Medical Association traditionally takes a pro-gun control position and in fact endorsed the original Brady Bill.)

The authors of the study examined the data from 32 "treatment" states which had to newly comply with the Brady Bill, compared with 18 control states and the District of Columbia which already had Brady-like restrictions in place.

Though in 1991 America began to see a drop in crime rates, the study's authors expected to see much bigger drops in homicides in the states that were newly following the federal law. Yet after controlling for a number of variables they found no difference, except for the possibility of some drop in some suicide rates. Inevitably detractors will criticize the study but expert crime-watchers, like John Lott of Yale University, had long predicted these results.

Lott is perhaps America's foremost authority on gun laws and their relation to crime. And in the just-released second edition of his book "More Guns, Less Crime" he again sets a new threshold of analysis on this issue by combing through 20 years of FBI data from every county in America, as well as national gun ownership surveys, research on illegal gun use and other relevant data, while also considering the impact of law-enforcement and sentencing. Simply put, he finds that "criminals as a group tend to behave rationally - when crime becomes more difficult, less crime is committed."

Lott shows that gun control laws at best have no impact. But he probes much further than the authors of the JAMA study (who only considered homicide and suicide) to find that, at worst, restrictive gun laws actually increase violent crime. He finds that after weighing all appropriate variables, "states now experiencing the largest reduction in crime are also the ones with the fastest-growing rates of gun ownership."

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In fact, Lott shows that a direct effect of the Brady Bill restrictions was to leave women particularly defenseless, and to increase violent crime against them. He found a 3.6 percent increase in rapes and a 3 percent increase in aggravated assaults against females over what would have been the case without the law. (Conversely, while states that allow citizens to carry concealed weapons always see subsequent drops in crime rates, the drop in murder rates in particular is even more precipitous for women than for men.)

Further, he notes that while in 1997 440,000 gun-related crimes were committed, guns were used to defend against crime some two million times. He says that in 98 percent of cases, just brandishing a gun stopped the attack. But as Lott asks, when do you ever see that on the evening news?

Just consider one such instance, the 1997 school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi. Lott points out that of some 700 news stories on the assault, only 13 mention the heroic assistant principal who stopped it. Yet, he ran one-quarter mile away to get his gun from his locked car - it had to be kept off school grounds to comply with federal law - ran back and held the assailant at gunpoint until police arrived several minutes later. Law enforcement officials believed the attacker had been on his way to continue his shooting-spree at another school.

Of course the JAMA study, and the impeccable research of Lott, will be lost on those folks who will inevitably say "Oh, the Brady Bill isn't working? Well, of course that just means we have to extend its restrictions even further."

But it seems to me such folks are not really committed to stopping gun crime - they're committed to stopping law abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights to protect themselves with a firearm.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Scripps Howard News Service