Stephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Executive Deputy EditorIndividualAuthor
To the Editor: By finding that the Brady Act
had no effect on gun homicides, Drs Ludwig and Cook1
appear to have unmasked the act as a failure. The fault lies not in the law,
however, but rather in unrealistic expectations of what it could accomplish.
These expectations were reflected in the design of the study.
A simple hypothetical example will make this clear. First, 2 facts:
(1) in 1994, when the Brady Act was enacted, the US gun homicide rate was
about 7 per 100,000 population2; and (2)
nationwide each year during 1994-1998 as many as 80,000 persons, mostly felons,
were denied the purchase of a gun.3 Imagine
enacting a hypothetical waiting period and background check in 1994 instead
of the Brady Act and assume that felons who attempt to buy guns through legal
channels are about 12 times as likely as the general population to commit
gun homicides,4 resulting in a rate of 84
homicides per 100,000 population for felons. To maximize the estimate of the
law's impact, also assume that background checks and waiting periods were
not in existence anywhere in the United States in 1994 (so that any benefits
were felt nationwide); that any reduction in the rate of homicides committed
by felons who failed the background check was due entirely to the law; and—most
unrealistically—that the law was 100% effective, permanently, in preventing
gun homicides by the felons whose purchases were denied.
Wintemute GJ. Impact of the Brady Act on Homicide and Suicide Rates. JAMA. 2000;284(21):2718-2721. doi:10.1001/jama.284.21.2717