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December 6, 2000

Impact of the Brady Act on Homicide and Suicide Rates

Author Affiliations

Stephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Executive Deputy EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 2000;284(21):2718-2721. doi:10.1001/jama.284.21.2717

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.