Commentary: A cooling-off period on handgun purchases nationwide would save lives
By Raja Krishnamoorthi
March 26th, 2018, 6:00am
How many times have we heard the advice to “count to three” before doing something impulsive — such as sending an angry text or responding to the president’s tweets? We often regret the things we do or say on the spur of the moment when driven by strong emotions. Many times, we could have saved ourselves from negative consequences if only we had taken a moment for reflection.
This is the idea behind establishing a waiting period for handgun purchases. An October 2017 Harvard Business School study found that mandatory waiting periods between the sale of a gun and its arrival save lives. According to the study, states with mandatory waiting periods — regardless of their length — had an average of 17 percent fewer murders and 10 percent fewer suicides.
When researchers looked at the impact of the national five-day waiting period, which was in place from 1994 until 1998, they found a 17 percent drop-off in gun homicides and a 6 percent reduction in suicides in states that didn’t have waiting periods prior to 1994.
Researchers estimated that in 2014 alone, roughly 750 gun homicides were avoided in the states with waiting-period laws, and an additional 910 lives could be saved annually if all 50 states, and Washington, D.C., had mandatory waiting periods.
The Harvard study is important because, since 1996, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been prohibited from researching the impact of gun policies on Americans’ health and safety due to the Dickey Amendment. That rider to an omnibus spending bill, backed strongly by the NRA, mandated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the CDC may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” This includes research into the potential impact of waiting periods in reducing deaths by handgun.
That hasn’t stopped the American Medical Association from weighing in. In 2016, the AMA voted to expand its gun safety policy to include support for waiting periods as well as background checks for all firearm buyers.
While we must work to prevent the mass shootings which have become all too visible, we must also combat the other gun homicides and suicides which take many more lives each year. According to the CDC, more than 33,000 people in the U.S. die in firearm-related deaths every year. In 2016 alone, the CDC found that the rate of gun deaths in the U.S. was 12 per 100,000 — up from 11 deaths per 100,000 in 2015. Statistically, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides and more than a third are homicides.
How many of those suicides and homicides might have been prevented if gun buyers were required to wait a short time before completing their purchases? Nobody knows for sure, but it’s likely to be hundreds — if not thousands. That’s why I recently introduced legislation to establish a national waiting period for handgun purchases. The bill requires that three business days must elapse between a purchase and the buyer’s receipt of a handgun, regardless of how quickly the buyer passes a background check. It also provides an exception for handgun loans and gifts between family members.
Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia have some form of waiting period law on the books. California, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island, and D.C. have mandatory waiting periods for all firearm purchases. Minnesota has a waiting period law for both handgun and assault weapon purchases. Florida, Iowa, Maryland, and New Jersey have waiting periods for handguns only. But in the aftermath of the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting, Florida just expanded its waiting period to include purchases of assault rifles.
Illinois is the only state with different waiting periods for handguns and long guns. The state Senate just passed a bill to make them uniform by extending the waiting period for long-gun purchases. If a similar measure passes the House, I’m hopeful that Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign it.
My federal bill would end this patchwork approach to waiting periods for handgun purchases, which is particularly important for Illinois whose neighbors are far more lax in their gun regulations. From Chicago and its suburbs, it’s an easy drive to Wisconsin or Indiana to buy a gun on the spur of the moment. With my legislation in place, there would be a nationwide cooling-off period for those whose handgun purchases are motivated by suicidal feelings or anger toward a spouse or domestic partner. Someone couldn’t just “jump the fence” to a neighboring state for an immediate purchase.
By requiring just a few days to elapse between a violent impulse and a gun purchase, many lives could be saved and tragedies averted. It’s not much of an inconvenience, but it could prevent hundreds of potential suicides and crimes of passion. Let’s take a breath, wait three days, and reduce handgun deaths across our nation.
Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Schaumburg, represents Illinois’ 8th Congressional District, which includes Chicago’s western and northwest suburbs.
Photo Credit: Luke Sharrett, Bloomberg