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THE PITFALLS OF WAITING PERIODS
What Gun Control Advocates Don't Want You To Consider

by Annie
annie@codyexpress.com

December 17, 2000

 

Even before the National Instant Check System (NICS) replaced the 5-day waiting period previously required by the Brady Law, anti-gun groups and outspoken politicians renewed the call for a mandatory waiting period for anyone wishing to purchase a firearm.  The reason most often cited for restoration of a waiting period is the need to provide a “cooling off” period for gun purchasers contemplating a crime of passion.

According to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), “A brief waiting period allows tempers to cool and can give our law enforcement officials an opportunity to stop questionable purchases. It’s hard to understand why a person would need a gun immediately.  Bringing back the waiting period isn’t about more government, it’s about fewer gun crime victims.”[i]

On June 9, 2000 Sen. Robert Torricelli  (D–NJ) stated, “Even if we perfect the technology of an instant background check to assure that people with mental illness or felony convictions do not buy guns, a cooling off period is still valuable. In this nation, the most likely person to shoot another citizen is a member of his or her own family in a crime of passion or rage. A cooling off period to separate the rage from the purchase of the gun and the act could save thousands of lives.”[ii]

Senators Durbin and Torricelli apparently assume that the only individuals who “would need a gun immediately” are those intending to use them with harmful intent.  The idea that the intended victim in such situations may, indeed, have immediate need of self-protection either escapes the attention of the distinguished Senators or is an idea they simply don’t want to acknowledge.  Cooling off periods to separate the rage from the purchase of the gun and the act could just as easily cost many lives.

 

The Disadvantages of Waiting Periods

Aside from the fact that waiting periods put one’s rights on hold, forcing citizens to wait for government approval before exercising a God-given Constitutionally protected right, there are other problems with the so-called cooling off periods.

We are told that waiting periods will prevent crimes of passion, yet we are not told that those same waiting periods can threaten honest people’s safety.  Furthermore, there are still questions about the benefits of waiting periods.  In an Op-Ed article written for CBS News, Dr. John Lott, Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, states,

“I have found, in the only research done on this question, that the Brady Law’s national waiting periods had no impact on murder or robbery, but slightly increased rape and aggravated assault rates by a few percent.  Thus, for two crime categories, the major effect was to delay law-abiding citizens from getting a gun for protection.  The risks were greatest for crimes against women.”

Waiting periods extend a potential victim's “period of vulnerability,” sometimes with tragic consequences.  For example, in 1991 Wisconsin resident Bonnie Elmasri, seeking to purchase a firearm for protection from a husband who had repeatedly threatened to kill her, was told she would have to wait 48 hours to obtain the weapon.  Unfortunately, 48 hours was too long to wait; the abusive husband killed Bonnie and her two children the next day.[iii]

Waiting periods also force potential victims to rely on stalking laws and restraining orders for protection.  It has been shown time and again that individuals intent on inflicting great bodily harm do not consider the potential consequences of violating a court order or stalking law to be an unacceptable risk.  And law enforcement institutions certainly don’t have the capabilities to provide 24-hour coverage to ensure a court order is enforced.  Clearly, “pieces of paper” issued by a court or created in legislative proceedings are not suitable substitutes when it comes to self-defense. 

Terry Jackson of Albany, Georgia, fearing for her life, swore out arrest warrants for an abusive former boyfriend who had stalked and assaulted her.  Finding little comfort in relying on the warrants, the mother of five purchased a pistol from a pawnshop.  Less than 12 hours later, she shot and killed the ex-boyfriend as he tried to break into her home.  The shooting was ruled a clear-cut case of self-defense.[iv]

Similarly, Marine Cpl. Rayna Ross purchased a gun as a result of threats and previous assaults from a fellow Marine under orders to stay away from her.  Just three days after purchasing the weapon, Cpl. Ross fatally shot the man after he broke through a door and rushed into her bedroom brandishing a bayonet.  Had Cpl. Ross been subject to a waiting period, she might not be alive today.[v]  

Fortunately, Cpl. Ross and Ms. Jackson did not have to rely on “pieces of paper” while waiting for a “cooling off period” to pass.

 

Scratching Below the Surface

In order for a waiting period to prevent a crime of passion or rage, several criteria must be met. 

First, the person intent on committing the crime must not own or have access to a gun and there must be no other weapon available or acceptable to the potential offender.

Second, the person must have no record that would prevent him from legally obtaining a firearm.  Waiting periods would only apply to those who were willing to submit themselves to a background check and could successfully pass.  Others would choose another means to secure a gun.

Third, the potential assailant must seek to obtain the gun through a licensed dealer who would conduct the background check and institute the waiting period prescribed by law.

Fourth, some mechanism or rationale must cause the assailant to change his mind about committing the crime before the arbitrarily chosen “cooling off” period expired.  One would have to assume that the inability to obtain the desired weapon – a gun – would result in the desired behavior, rather than further enrage the individual.

In other words, advocates of cooling off periods assume that an individual enraged to the point of committing a violent crime would simply change his (or her) mind if he had to wait to obtain a firearm, that such a person would not consider an alternative method or weapon to carry out his criminal intent and that once denied immediate possession of a firearm, the irate offender would not seek to acquire one through some other means. 

Furthermore, advocates of waiting periods often tell us, as Senator Torricelli did, “the most likely person to shoot another citizen is a member of his or her own family in a crime of passion or rage.”  If that were true, then it would also follow that the assailant would know the self-defense capabilities of the intended victim.  The inability to quickly obtain a firearm may not present much of an obstacle to a potential assailant if he knows his unarmed victim is impeded from acquiring a gun for self-protection by the same waiting period.  In other words, for every crime prevented by a waiting period, there is a victim prevented from protecting him/herself. 

On the surface, waiting periods sound like a good, “common sense” measure in reducing gun crime.  But once you scratch below the surface and sift through the rhetoric, it becomes apparent that the bottom line effect of waiting periods is to make citizens more vulnerable to criminals.

Once you scratch below the surface, common sense tells you that waiting periods can be – and have been - deadly.

Footnotes:

  • [i] Press Release, Handgun Control, Inc., February 24, 1999

  • [ii] Congressional Record, June 9, 2000, p. S 6731

  • [iii] Congressional Record, May 8, 1991, pp. H 2859, H 2862

  • [iv] The Herald, Albany, Georgia, October 6, 1993

  • [v] The Potomac News, Woodbridge, VA, July 2, 1993

 

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