OF WAITING PERIODS
What Gun Control Advocates Don't Want You To Consider
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
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
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 -
Press Release, Handgun Control, Inc., February 24, 1999
Congressional Record, June 9, 2000, p. S 6731
Congressional Record, May 8, 1991, pp. H 2859, H 2862
The Herald, Albany, Georgia, October 6, 1993
The Potomac News, Woodbridge, VA, July 2, 1993