Can Government Be Trusted?
Can Government Be Trusted?
Investor's Business Daily
July 16, 1998
JOHN R. LOTT JR.
President Clinton gives the '94 Brady Law much
credit for lowering the crime rate. In fact, the White House has
never offered clear evidence that the law has done anything of
Even the frequent claim that background checks
have prevented criminals from getting guns is crumbling under
evidence the Clinton administration may have falsified data.
This isn't Clinton's ''editing mistake,'' in which
he said that the Brady Law has ''stopped hundreds of thousands
of felons, fugitives and stalkers from buying handguns every year.''
Clinton's own Justice Department puts the number at 69,000 in
But that figure may be wrong, too. The Justice
Department may have misreported the numbers for political ends.
Take the fall in the crime rate. Remember, the
murder rate began to drop in '91 - before Clinton took office
and years before the Brady Law took effect.
But that's just the least of it. In recent weeks,
The Indianapolis Star reported that Justice overstated the number
of handgun sales blocked in Indiana by more than 1,300%. The numbers
in Arizona were high, too, but by only 30%.
The Justice Department refers to selected state
police agencies as its source. But some of these very same agencies
denied that representatives ever spoke with Justice. ''If they're
saying we had that many stops,'' said Bruce Bryant of the Indiana
State Police Firearms Division, ''there's no way in the world
it could be that high.''
The White House has had its Brady numbers challenged
in the past. Previous estimates of the number of criminals stopped
from buying a gun were skewed. The General Accounting Office brought
these errors to light in '96. It showed that initial rejections
numbered 60,000 - not 100,000, as the White House claimed. Most
of those rejections were due to technical glitches or paperwork
errors, and were eventually corrected. Some 3,000 rejections were
due to convictions for violent crimes.
These 3,000 rejections could be important, even
if the figure isn't even close to the administration's estimates.
But that number still isn't good evidence that the Brady Law has
reduced crime. In fact, the vast majority of criminals get their
guns from the black market. That has been true before and after
the law passed.
Even police are skeptical that the law has reduced
crime. A poll from the National Association of Chiefs of Police
in May found that 85% of police chiefs believe the law hasn't
cut down on gun crimes.
In my book, I provided the first systematic evidence of the Brady Law's impact
during its first year. I looked at crime rate data for all 3,054
counties in the United States from 1977 through 1994. I accounted
for arrest and conviction rates, prison sentences, changes in
gun laws, income levels and poverty rates, unemployment and illegal
drug prices. The result? The Brady Law had no significant impact
on murder or robbery rates in its first year, but was associated
with a slight increase in rapes and aggravated assaults.
Fears that waiting periods will interfere in particular
with women's ability to get a gun quickly to defend themselves
appear justified. My study of state waiting periods and background
checks suggested that the longest waiting periods - such as those
in California and New York -are the most dangerous.
But despite the evidence against the Brady Law,
Clinton is using the law's dubious success to push an extension
of the five-day waiting period beyond the law's scheduled November
phase- out. And the president is using the law to tout even more
gun-control measures - new taxes on gun sales to pay for background
checks, as well as rules designed ostensibly to keep guns out
of minors' hands. President Clinton may sincerely believe that
such measures promote public safety. But the ends don't justify
the means: If Justice Department data are being reported falsely,
it poses a real threat to any honest evaluation of U.S. crime
Mistakes can happen. But so far, the Justice Department's
errors have grossly exaggerated the Brady Law's success.
John R. Lott Jr. is the John M. Olin Law and Economics
Fellow at the University of Chicago School of Law and author of
''More Guns, Less Crime''
(University of Chicago Press, 1998).
To Purchase: More Guns, Less Crime By: John Lott, Jr.
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