Last Friday marked the 20th anniversary of the so-called Brady Law, a federal gun control in honor of James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s former press secretary who was wounded in John Hinckley’s assassination attempt.

Since it requires background checks on all guns purchased from federally licensed firearms dealers, gun control advocates celebrated the law’s purported effectiveness.

The description by the Capitol newspaper The Hill was typical: “The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which took effect 20 years ago Friday, has blocked more than 2 million firearm sales, preventing ‘countless’ killings and other crimes, gun control advocates said at an event to mark the anniversary ….”

On Friday, the Brady Campaign claimed that half those blocked from purchasing a gun — over 1 million — were felons.

Impressive numbers. But, alas, both are gross exaggerations.

In reality, the “Brady Checks” are quite ineffective in stopping criminals from getting guns. There are actually very few hard-core criminals that are stupid enough to even try to buy a gun from a dealer that does a background check.


So let us look at these numbers, a relatively typical year. Out of the 76,142 initial denials in the federal system only 44 individuals were prosecuted and only 13 were convicted of illegally trying to purchase a gun when they were prohibited from doing so.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, those convicted were hardly what one would call dangerous criminals — usually people with relatively trivial records from years earlier that didn’t realize their offense was covered.


The real problem is denying someone a purchase because they have a similar name to a felon, but that is not the same thing as saying that the person being denied is a felon.


All these denials mean delays for many law-abiding gun buyers. Although just an inconvenience for most, this causes dangerous delays for people who suddenly, legitimately need a gun for self-defense.

With more than 2 million initial denials, there are going to be a significant, if small, number who really needed a gun quickly for self-defense. A good example is a woman who suddenly finds herself stalked by an ex-boyfriend or spouse.

Gun-control advocates all too easily dismiss the concerns of would-be victims who suddenly feel threatened. They should not be left as sitting ducks.

My own research suggests that delays caused by the Brady background checks likely increase violent crime slightly, especially rape.

Indeed, there is no real scientific evidence among criminologists and economists that background checks actually reduce crime.

In fact, a 2004 National Academy of Sciences panel concluded that the Brady background checks did not reduce violent crime, not even a single category of violent crime. Later national studies have not found a beneficial effect either.


Source: John R. Lott Jr.,