8/98 Childproof Gunlocks Bound to Misfire

The following article is printed by permission from Professor John Lott. Dr. Lott teaches at the University of Chicago and has become one of the leading researchers in the debate over the effectiveness of firearms. While his op-ed piece originally ran over a year ago in the Wall Street Journal (July 1997), it is still very timely for the current debate over trigger locks. Between a rock and a hard place? In July, GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt debated Sarah Brady of HCI (left) and syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington on CNN. The issue was madatory trigger locks and Pratt was the only speaker taking the pro-Second Amendment position.

State legislatures across the country are debating the imposition of “childproof” locks on guns. Massachusetts’ attorney general last month [June 1997] issued an array of “safety measures” to take effect next year, including a requirement that all guns sold in the state come equipped with such locks. [And the Senate could be planning to debate “childproof” gun lock requirements.]

Unfortunately, despite the obvious feel-good appeal of these rules, they are more likely to cost lives than save them.

To understand why, consider first how many accidental gun deaths occur in the U.S. In 1995 there were 1,400 such deaths. Just 200 of those involved children under 15. In comparison, 2,900 children died in motor vehicle crashes, 950 children drowned, and more than 1,000 children died from fire and burns. Hundreds more children die in bicycle accidents every year than die from all types of firearms accidents. But which is more likely to make the “Eyewitness News”? And which is more likely to inspire legislators’ attempts at a quick fix?

Ban Consequences

Of course, any child’s death is tragic and it’s hardly consoling that such common home fixtures as swimming pools and space heaters are potentially lethal. Yet it is true that the very rules that seek to save lives can result in more deaths. Banning swimming pools would help prevent drowning, for example; but if fewer people exercised, life spans would be shortened. Heaters may start fires, but they also keep people from getting sick, and from freezing to death. So whether we want to allow pools or space heaters depends not only on whether some people may be harmed by them, but also on whether more people are helped than hurt.

Similar trade-offs exist for gun locks. Mechanical locks that fit either into a gun’s barrel or over its trigger require the gun to be unloaded, and may prevent a few children’s deaths. But locked, unloaded guns offer far less protection from intruders, and so requiring locks would likely greatly increase deaths resulting from crime. Futuristic guns like those necessitating wearing a wristband that emits a radio signal to activate the gun are far from reliable and will cost $900 when they are finally available. Under the new rules, such costs of gun ownership would fall far more heavily on law-abiding citizens than on criminals– decreasing the numbers of innocent people who could use guns to protect themselves. So the debate over gun locks comes down to how many of the 200 accidental child deaths will be avoided vs. how such rules will reduce all people’s ability to defend themselves.

Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, safety rules do not always increase safety. President Clinton has argued many times that “we protect aspirin bottles in this country better than we protect guns from accidents by children.” However, Harvard economist W. Kip Viscusi has shown that child-resistant bottle caps have resulted in “3,500 additional poisonings of children under age 5 annually from (aspirin-related drugs)… (as) consumers have been lulled into a less-safety-conscious mode of behavior by the existence of safety caps.” If Mr. Clinton were aware of such research, he surely wouldn’t refer to aspirin bottles when telling us how to deal with guns.

Other research shows that guns clearly deter criminals. Polls by the Los Angeles Times, Gallup and Peter Hart Research show that there are at least 760,000, and possibly as many as 3.6 million, defensive uses of guns per year. In 98% of the cases, such polls show, people simply brandish the weapon to stop an attack.

The defensive nature of guns is further reflected in the different rates of so-called hot burglaries, in which a victim is at home when a burglar strikes. In Canada and Britain, which both have tough gun-control laws, almost half of all burglaries are “hot.” In The U.S., where greater gun ownership is allowed, only 13% of burglaries are “hot.” Criminals are not behaving differently simply by accident. U.S. felons reveal in surveys that when committing crimes they are much more worried about armed victims than about the police.

In recent research into gun ownership rates across states over time, I have found that higher gun ownership rates are associated with dramatically lower crime rates. Further, it is the poorest people in the most crime-prone areas who benefit most from gun ownership. Safety rules that raise the costs of gun purchases will thus reduce gun ownership and hit these people the hardest. And the higher costs of gun ownership go well beyond the costs of buying guns with mechanical or electronic locks; they include civil and likely criminal liability if guns are involved in accidents.

So if gun lock laws are unlikely to save lives, indeed if they are likely to cost lives, then who would benefit from them? Answer: plaintiffs’ lawyers. The General Accounting Office reported in 1991 that mechanical safety locks are unreliable in preventing children over six years of age from using a gun. Will manufacturers meet the proposed laws’ requirements if their products carry disclaimers saying that the gun locks may not work? Without such a disclaimer, imagine the lawsuits manufacturers would face for supplying locks that they know would fail to guarantee protection. Research into similar situations involving children’s vaccines suggests that such liability costs can account for 90% of the price of a product.

Laws frequently have unintended consequences. Fortunately, it’s not too late to stop the new gun “safety” laws before they produce the same headaches– and much worse– that the aspirin-bottle rules have caused.

Confiscation? It’s Not Just Paranoia After All

The Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey newspaper, reported in May about a 15-year-old high school student who drew a picture of a “person as seen through a rifle scope.”

His “concerned” teacher and school officials reported the boy to the local police, who promptly visited the boy’s house and confiscated his father’s firearms.

Although there was no evidence that the firearms were being used illegally, police obtained a warrant to search the boy’s home.

As a result of the search, the boy’s father, who was in compliance with New Jersey’s strict licensing and permitting system as well as being a teacher of hunting safety for the state Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, lost his 20-gun collection to a police seizure.

Ironically, the firearms were confiscated even though they were kept locked in a vault.

Police “Raid” Another Home

About a month later, on June 12, 1998, a second grade class at a Cheektowaga, New York, elementary school was visited by a police officer who supposedly talked to the second-graders about “gun safety.”

According to the Buffalo News, when the officer spoke of locking up firearms, young Amber Pomietlasz was reminded of her father’s hunting rifles.

Raising her hand, Amber said to the officer, “We have guns in the house, in a walkthrough closet.”

A short while later, two police officers visited the house to “check on the safety of the guns,” the News reported.

Finding the hunting rifles just the way Amber described them, the officers confiscated the firearms until they were satisfied with the way the family stored their guns.

In the name of protecting the children, the government is growing increasingly cavalier with the peoples’ civil liberties.

The anti-self defense lobby is pushing legislation, such as mandatory lock-up-your-safety measures, that will render firearms useless in an emergency.

And law enforcement is proving more than willing to come into homes to “check on” people’s firearms.

National ID Card Sheme Being Implemented

— New DOT regulations affect Brady Instant Registration Check

On June 17 the U.S. Department of Transportation published a proposed rule in the Federal Register regarding state-issued drivers licenses. Under the rule, which was “authorized” in 1996 with the passage of Public Law 104-208, states will only be able to issue drivers licenses which meet federal standards.

One of those standards mandates the use of Social Security numbers:

Sec. 1331.6 Social security number.

(a) Before issuing a license or document each State shall:

(1)Require the submission of the social security number by every applicant for a license or document.

(2)Verify electronically the validity of each applicant’s social security number with the Social Security Administration.

If a person doesn’t have a Social Security number, they will be issued a unique number which will become their de facto federal ID number.

Further, after 1 Oct. 2000, no federal agency may accept as proof of identity anything which does not conform to their standards. Since both the FBI and the BATF are federal agencies, your new Federal ID Card will be used in performing Brady background checks. (Note: BATF has stated they want to include SSNs on firearms transaction records.)

You won’t even be able to get a job without an employer first verifying (electronically) with the Social Security Administration that you have a federally-approved ID card. The proponents of this system hope to add magnetic strip personal information to the new IDs– even to the point of encoding the medical histories of every U.S. citizen.

An obvious next move would be to encode your firearms ownership status.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has introduced the Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act (HR 4217) to prevent any National ID Card. Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) is an original cosponsor.

“Under the current state of the law, the citizens of states which have drivers’ licenses that do not conform to the federal standards by October 1, 2000, will find themselves essentially stripped of their ability to participate in life as we know it,” said Paul in a news release.

“On that date, Americans will not be able to get a job, open a bank account, apply for Social Security or Medicare, exercise their Second Amendment rights, or even take an airplane flight, unless they can produce a state-issued ID that conforms to the federal specifications.”

Gun owners should ask their U.S. Representative to support HR 4217. A National ID Card is, in fact, an internal passport. “Your [high-tech] papers, please” may well be the terrifying motto of the next century.

Book’s Premise:
More Guns, Less Crime

by Dr. Paul Gallant

“Does allowing people to own or carry guns deter violent crime? Or does it simply cause more citizens to harm each other?” That’s the opening to a remarkable new book, More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws, by Dr. John R. Lott, Jr., an economist at the University of Chicago.

The question concerns us all, and the answer can not be just somebody’s guess, or personal opinion – it must be one we can bet our lives on, perhaps even the lives of our loved ones. The senseless tragedy that recently unfolded in Jonesboro, Arkansas, only serves to punctuate the need for that indisputable answer with a sense of urgency.

Dr. Lott devotes the rest of his book to giving us that answer. His research, based on 54,000 separate observations from over 3,000 counties and spaced over 18 years, gives scientific validation to a very politically-incorrect premise: society benefits from ordinary people who accept the responsibilities of firearm ownership – not from gun-control laws.

Preventing law-abiding citizens from carrying firearms for self-defense does not end violent crime; “it merely makes victims more vulnerable.”

Dr. Lott’s findings, replicated independently by other researchers, challenge virtually every claim of traditional gun-control dogma. Here are some of his myth-shattering conclusions.

* Allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns reduces violent crime. The reduction corresponds very closely to the number of concealed-handgun permits issued. On average, murder rates in states banning concealed-carry are 127% higher than in states having the most liberal carry laws. A 1% increase in firearm ownership reduces violent crime by 4.1%.

* Of particular interest, in the wake of Jonesboro, is Dr. Lott’s research on mass public shootings. He found that deaths and injuries from mass public shootings – incidents in which at least 2 people were killed or injured in a public place – fall dramatically after right-to-carry concealed-handgun laws are passed. In states where data was available both before and after passage of such laws, the average death rate from mass public shootings plummeted 69%!

Dr. Lott explained: “People who engage in mass public shootings are deterred by the possibility that law-abiding citizens may be carrying guns. Such people may be deranged, but they still appear to care whether they will themselves be shot as they attempt to kill others.”

He pointed out that efforts to ban all guns from schools, like “gun-free school zones”, make schools safe – not for our children, but for those intent on harming them!

In fact, the one factor common to all three states that have had such shootings since early last year, is that each had provisions for the concealed-carry of handguns – except in and around public schools!

Allowing responsible adults and teachers access to guns would serve to make schools less vulnerable to mass shootings. That’s exactly what stopped a 1997 shooting spree in Pearl, Mississippi, when an assistant principal retrieved a gun from his car, and immobilized the gunman until police arrived.

* Large, urban, densely populated areas benefit the most from concealed-carry laws. Ironically, these are the areas where opposition to such laws by politicians is greatest. When allowed the means to defend themselves, law-abiding minorities in the most crime-prone areas produced the greatest reductions in crime.

Dr. Lott noted that laws which seek to ban low-cost firearms, i.e. so-called “Saturday- Night-Specials”, only serve to disarm those very people.

* Women who carry concealed handguns provide a greater margin of safety for other women. While murder rates decline when either more men or more women carry concealed handguns, the drop is even greater among women than among men. Rapists are particularly susceptible to the deterrence of a potentially armed woman.

* Firearm-prohibitionists often argue that, as more people carry handguns, accidents are bound to increase. However, Dr. Lott found that accident and suicide rates are unaltered by the presence of concealed handguns. More Guns, Less Crime should be mandatory reading for every legislator or bureaucrat who has input into public policy-making. Some may not like what Dr. Lott has to say, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable to the truth. Public policy ought not be held hostage to bias, hysteria, or ignorance.

Dr. Lott’s book ends with a question: “Will allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns save lives?” The answer he gives is a very definite “yes.” As Dr. Lott demonstrates, even those bent on disarming their fellow Americans are made safer by the choice of responsible citizens to own and carry firearms for protection.

The writer lives in Wesley Hills, New York. He is chairman of the Committee for Law-Abiding Gun Owners, Rockland (LAGR), a Second Amendment grassroots group, based in Rockland County, New York.

More Guns, Less Crime is available from Gun Owners Foundation for $23 plus $4.50 for handling and postage. Checks should be made out to GOF and sent to GOF, 8001 Forbes Place, Suite 102, Springfield, VA 22151. Credit card orders can be phoned in to 703-321- 8585. For web orders, http://www.gunowners.com/resource.htm on the GOF site has both a secure server and a print-and-mail order form.

GOA Urges Committee to Repeal Brady Registration Law

House Holds Hearings on Brady Implementation

On June 11 in Washington, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime held hearings on the implementation of the Brady Registration Act.

Remarkably, none of the persons invited to testify in person took the position that the Brady Act is unconstitutional and should be repealed in its entirety. Instead, panel members argued over how the registration scheme should be implemented.

What should be of concern to gun owners is that this debate barely raised an anti-gun eyebrow on Capitol Hill. Even though anti-gun leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) sits on the subcommittee, he did not even bother to show up at the hearing.

In fact, only one Democrat came to the hearing, staying for about five minutes to make a statement.

The fact that these hearings were so non-controversial is indicative that the anti-gunners don’t care very much how Brady is implemented, so long as it gets “on line.”

Subcommittee Chairman Bill McCollum (R-FL) even bragged in his opening remarks that he, along with different pro-gun groups, actually crafted the Brady registration check language.

GOA’s Executive Director Larry Pratt took a much different approach. In his written comments, which will be made a part of the official record, Mr. Pratt urged Congress not to quibble over fees and other details that would “smooth out” the system. Rather, Congress was urged to get behind the one bill that would completely repeal Brady– H.R. 2721, introduced by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

Following is the testimony submitted by Larry Pratt:


My name is Larry Pratt. I am Executive Director of Gun Owners of America and appreciate the opportunity to submit this statement on behalf of our 200,000 members.

I am very pleased that the subcommittee is looking into the abuses that are now resulting from the passage of the ill-advised Brady Law in the Democratic Congress of 1993. Almost five years ago, I presented testimony to this very Committee regarding the impending passage of the Brady law.

I was concerned then that this law could be used to register the names of gun buyers. Unfortunately, the FBI’s recent draft regulations have validated my initial concerns. On September 30, 1993, I told this Committee that,

The “instant check” system, integrated into Brady . . . can easily be converted into a gun owner registration scheme of all or actual gun owners. Once a name is entered into the [federal] central computer to check if the individual is a felon or otherwise unable to purchase a firearm, the name is easily retained in the computer for future use.

Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment commented on the Virginia instant check system saying, “The Virginia transaction log does not include the names of firearm purchasers, but the potential exists regardless of legal prohibitions.”1


Unfortunately, these words have all but come true. As long as the instant check continues in operation, there will always be the potential for gun owner registration. The recent FBI regs (issued June 4, 1998) are only the most recent example of how Brady background checks have resulted in officials trying to illegally keep the names of gun buyers in government computers.2

The bill currently under review (H.R. 3949) will, in some ways, take us closer to removing the unconstitutional yoke that has been placed around gun owners’ necks. However, while this bill takes us forward in some ways, I think it would be wise to consider the benefits of fully repealing the Brady Registration Law. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has introduced H.R. 2721, “The Second Amendment Restoration Act,” which among other things, will repeal the unconstitutional Brady Law in its entirety.

Please consider how each bill (H.R. 2721 and H.R. 3949) would treat the areas below that are of great concern to gun owners.

Rescinding the Brady Registration Check H.R. 2721
H.R. 3949
Repeal the illegal Brady tax Yes Yes
Definitively stop the registration of gun owners Yes ?
End the harassment of long-gun buyers Yes No
Stop the BATF from collecting Social Security Numbers of gun owners Yes No
Preclude the “instant” check from becoming a three day check Yes No


Repealing the illegal Brady tax

Congress has appropriated virtually unlimited funds to build the National Police Computer known as NCIC. The citizen-checking portion passed under the Brady law has its own allotment of $200 million.

Despite this, the “authorities” plan to tax the public for each use, but only if local police aren’t cooperating– states with FBI-approved police “instant” checks will pay no tax. The tax is imposed by the FBI, although issued as a BATF regulation, a concept that raises its own disturbing concerns. There is no authority for the tax in Brady Part 1 or Part 2. Both H.R. 2721 and H.R. 3949 would end this illegal tax.

Definitively stopping the registration of gun owners

H.R. 2721 stops gun owner registration by repealing the Brady Law in its entirety. H.R. 3949 contains language to stop this registration and to criminalize violations. But H.R. 3949 does not stop background checks from taking place; and that could still allow an open door.

As long as government authorities have to check out gun buyers before the purchase of a firearm, the POTENTIAL for creating a registration list will always exist. As stated by the Justice Department in 1989, “Any system that requires a criminal history record check prior to purchase of a firearm creates the potential for the automated tracking of individuals who seek to purchase firearms.”

Indeed, there have been several recent examples of privacy abuses that have occurred both at the federal and state levels– all without reprisals or official sanctions. For example, under the Brady Law (Part I), some states– including Ohio and Texas– were shown to be keeping lists of gun buyers.3 To date, no prosecutions have resulted. At the federal level, the FBI abused the privacy of about 900 individuals in what has become known as “Filegate.” No prosecutions have ensued.

Regardless of whether gun owners’ names are officially allowed to be kept for 24 hours (as under H.R. 3949) or for 18 months (as per the FBI regulations), can anyone really be sure the names of gun buyers will not indefinitely remain on a back-up disk somewhere?

Ending the harassment of long-gun buyers

Part II of the Brady Law forces buyers of long-guns to go through the background check as well. The BATF regulations issued in February make this point very clearly: “While the interim provisions apply only to handguns, the permanent provisions of the Brady law will apply to all firearms.”4 (Emphasis added.) H.R. 2721 is the only bill that ends background checks on both handgun buyers AND long-gun buyers.

Stopping the feds from collecting Social Security numbers of gun owners

In February, BATF officials made it clear in their proposed regulations that they want gun dealers to collect the Social Security Numbers of gun buyers. The BATF explains it needs this information because, “by providing a social security number, the transferee might avoid confusion with a prohibited buyer who has the same name and date of birth as the transferee.”5 Regardless of the BATF’s reasoning, the giving of people’s social security numbers could certainly facilitate the compilation of a registration list.

H.R. 2721– by repealing this onerous law– would stop the BATF from collecting this “registration” information. Brady “registration” checks would still continue under H.R. 3949.

Precluding the “instant” check from becoming a three day check

The BATF regulations make it clear that the federal bureaucrats will have “up to three business days” to respond to each background check request. Since weekends are not typically considered business days, the “three business days” can easily impose a five day waiting period for weekend gun sales– or a six day waiting period if there is a holiday on a Friday or Monday. This would adversely impact gun dealer sales at all weekend gun shows. Once again, repealing the entire law (as H.R. 2721 does) eliminates this problem.

Stopping the infringement of a Constitutionally protected right

The Second Amendment states, in part, that the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That means no waiting periods, no background checks (a prior restraint), and no taxes, fees or bans. Clearly, this amendment is protecting against infringing the rights of individual citizens, and is undoubtedly what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they referred to “the people.”

On this very point, the Supreme Court stated in U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990) that,

“The people” seems to have been a term of art employed in select parts of the Constitution. . . . [and] it suggests that “the people” protected by the Fourth Amendment, and by the First and Second Amendments, and to whom rights and powers are reserved in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, refers to a class of persons who are part of a national community or who have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community.6

To be sure, honest gun owners should not have to request permission from, or prove their innocence to, the government before exercising a Constitutionally guaranteed right– any more than a preacher or journalist should have to prove their worthiness before exercising their First Amendment rights.

Any scheme that violates this principle is just plain wrong. H.R. 3949 will leave in place a law that forces law-abiding gun owners to first get permission from government officials before exercising their rights. According the General Accounting Office, the Brady law resulted in only three criminals being sent to jail after its first year and a half in operation.7 Why should we leave a law on the books that penalizes honest citizens, but rarely punishes criminals?

I hope the subcommittee will examine H.R. 2721, and bring it up for a vote. It repeals the illegal tax being imposed by the FBI. It definitively stops the registration of gun owners and prevents federal officials from getting gun owners’ social security numbers. It ends the harassment of long-gun buyers and keeps the “instant” check from becoming a three-to-five-day waiting period. Moreover, it repeals the unconstitutional requirement that forces honest gun owners to prove their innocence to government bureaucrats.

In sum, H.R. 2721 conclusively protects the rights of gun owners. Thank you very much.

1U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Automated Record Checks of Firearm Purchasers: Issues and Options, OTA-TCT-497 [Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 1991].

2Highly acclaimed civil rights attorney, researcher and author, David Kopel, has noted several states where either registration lists have been illegally compiled from background checks or where such registration lists have been abused by officials. Kopel, ed., Guns: Who Should Have Them?, (1995) at 88, 117 (fn. 75), and 122 (fn. 124).

3Two letters on file at GOA headquarters bear this out: Stephen B. Savoy, Groves City Police Department (July 25, 1996); Betty D. Montgomery, Ohio Attorney General (June 12, 1997).

4Federal Register, vol. 63, no. 33, (Feb. 19, 1998), p. 8380.

5Ibid., p. 8382.

6U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, Sup. Ct. case No. 88-1353 (1990).

7See General Accounting Office, Gun Control: Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, January 1996, p. 8.

Brady Law Firing Blanks

by James Bovard

The Clinton administration is once again hailing the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 as the key to national salvation. However, once again, the administration claims are as bogus as a three-dollar bill.

The Justice Department announced on June 21 that presale handgun background checks mandated by the Brady law and by state laws resulted in 69,000 people being denied permission to purchase guns in 1997.

But the Justice Department’s estimates did not even maintain credibility for a week. The Indianapolis Star and News reported on June 24 that the Justice Department exaggerated by 1,300 percent the number of gun buyers turned down in Indiana because of the Brady Act. White House spokeswoman Nanda Chitre conceded the same day that President Clinton had exaggerated the number of people stopped from buying guns by the Brady Act and that White House counsel Rahm Emanuel had greatly exaggerated the number of newly bought guns used in homicides.

This is not the first time the Clinton administration numbers on the Brady Act have gone down in disgrace. A 1996 General Accounting Office report found that the data used to estimate nationwide denials under the Brady Act are extremely unreliable. For instance, arrests are sometimes counted the same as convictions– and the fact that a person was once arrested (though later found innocent) could be used to deny their request to buy a firearm. GAO found almost half of all rejections under the Brady Act were due to paperwork problems or traffic violations, not to criminal records. (GAO did not even examine the percentage of denials that were valid.) Though the federal data is still very shaky, no member of Congress has requested that GAO update its study on Brady Act rejection numbers.

The Clinton administration is also deceptive in its claims that stopping felons from buying guns in a gun store automatically stops them from acquiring weapons. According to a 1991 Justice Department survey of convicts, most guns used to commit crimes have themselves been acquired illegally or on the black market.

Felons who attempt to purchase firearms can be sentenced to prison for 10 years. Unless Brady law violators are arrested and convicted, the Clinton administration can have no idea of how many criminals actually failed to acquire guns because of the 1993 law. Despite Clinton administration claims on how dangerous illicit gun buyers are, the federal government prosecutes fewer than 1 in 1,000 violators. The number of convictions from prosecutions for making false statements on Brady forms declined from 253 in 1994 to 36 in 1997.

Nor has the Justice Department kept records on the number of people who have successfully appealed denials to purchase handguns under the Brady Act. Paul Blackman of the National Rifle Association notes:

“No one has a clue how many false positives are in the system. My guess would be that it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of three-quarters” of denials, based on the experience of state systems.

Rather than impose five-day waiting periods, some states have instead created instant background checks to quickly check the bonafides of would-be handgun buyers. These systems make it far easier to apprehend criminals who attempt to buy guns when law enforcement knows the precise location of the violator. Virginia police make more than 400 arrests per year as a result of gun background checks– more than federal agents made in the entire country as a result of Brady Act background checks.

Nor has the Brady Act been a significant factor in reducing crime. Violent crime rates have declined more rapidly in states not covered by the Brady Act (because they have instant background checks, or for other reasons) than in other states. In fact, according to University of Chicago professor John Lott, author of the newly published More Guns, Less Crime, the Brady Act is actually responsible for “significant increases in rapes and aggravated assaults.”

The Brady Act banned law enforcement agencies from using background check information to compile registration lists of gun owners. But some law enforcement agencies blatantly violate this provision of the law. National Rifle Association Vice President Neal Knox recently observed,

Some local and state agencies, such as the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification, have been caught maintaining computerized records of Brady purchases despite the clear prohibition in the law. No prosecutions have resulted.

Even worse, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently announced its plans to retain records of approved gun buyers for 18 months. The FBI’s contempt for the clear language of the federal gun laws has enraged and alarmed many gun owners.

In New York City, registration lists have been used by politicians to conduct witch hunts of peaceful gun owners. In many countries, registartion lists have been used to carry out gun confiscations. The Gun Owners of America, the nation’s second-largest gun rights lobby, staunchly opposes any type of instant background check system because of fears it will be contorted into a gunowners registration system.

Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, has introduced legislation to prohibit the FBI from compiling registration lists of gun owners and from imposing a fee to conduct federally mandated background checks on would-be gun owners. Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, has gone further and introduced a bill (H.R. 2721) to completely repeal the Brady Act. Mr. Paul’s bill would be a far better curative than Mr. Barr’s bill, though with the current spineless majority in Congress, its prospects are not bright.

The arguments over the effects of the Bardy Act are drawing the battle lines for future political conflicts over gun control. The fact that the Clinton administration cannot get its numbers straight indicates that the ruling political elite have no right to further restrict Americans’ right to defend themselves and their families.

James Bovard, the author of Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty, (St. Matin’s), writes often on gun issues.