Gun Control

Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act Gao ID: GGD-96-22 January 25, 1996

The Brady handgun control law imposed a five-day waiting period on handgun sales to allow for background checks. GAO's self-initiated review of the first full year of the Brady bill's implementation discusses (1) how often the five-day waiting period and background checks resulted in denying criminals and other ineligible persons the opportunity to buy handguns from federally licensed dealers; (2) the extent to which such denials resulted in the arrest and the prosecution of convicted felons and other ineligible purchasers who falsely completed the handgun purchase application form; and (3) the effects of the various legal challenges to the Brady bill. Although GAO found that 4.3 percent of purchase applications were denied during the law's first year, these results are not projectable to the universe of denials nationwide because standard and common criteria were not used to make denials.

GAO found that: (1) of the law enforcement agencies surveyed, handguns were denied to about 4.3 percent of applicants; (2) application denials varied by jurisdiction because law enforcement officials did not use standardized criteria for their decisions; (3) most denials resulted from misdemeanor warrants or administrative reasons, such as gun dealers, sending applications to the wrong law enforcement agency; (4) in four jurisdictions, 4.9 percent of denials resulted from convictions or indictments for violent crimes, such as aggravated assault, murder, rape, or robbery; (5) most law enforcement officers relied solely on criminal history records in conducting their background checks because no other information sources were available, but some officers routinely checked for mental history disqualifications; (6) the number of Brady Act prosecutions was relatively small due to the low priority of follow-up enforcement actions at the Department of Justice (DOJ); (7) federal officials believe that the Brady Act is achieving its primary goal of preventing felons from legally purchasing handguns; (8) the effects of legal challenges to the Brady Act will not be known until all appeals are decided; and (9) DOJ believes that it lacks the authority to take action against law enforcement officers who do not conduct background checks.

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