law change affects the ultimate outcome of interest—the quantity of criminal harm committed with guns—or even the intermediate questions of the law’s effects on the number of guns purchased or owned.
Enacted in 1994, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required FFLs to conduct a background check on all handgun buyers and mandated a one-week waiting period before transferring the gun to the purchaser. A total of 32 states were required to implement the provisions of the Brady act. The remaining states5 and the District of Columbia were exempted because they already required a background check of those buying handguns from FFLs. In 1998, the background check provisions of the Brady act were extended to include the sales of long guns and the waiting period requirement was removed when, as mandated by the initial act, it became possible for licensed gun sellers to perform instant record checks on prospective buyers. The policy intent was to make gun purchases more difficult for prohibited persons, such as convicted felons, drug addicts, persons with certain diagnosed mental conditions, and persons under the legal age limit (18 for long rifles and shotguns, 21 for handguns). In 1996, the prospective purchasers with prior domestic violence convictions were also prohibited from purchasing firearms from FFLs.
Theoretically, by raising the cost of acquisition, this procedure reduces the supply of guns to would-be assailants and to some persons who might commit suicide. Several BJS studies have demonstrated that Brady background checks have created obstacles for prohibited persons who attempt to purchase a gun through retail outlets (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999, 2002). The Bureau of Justice Statistics (2002) reported that, from the inception of the Brady act on March 1, 1994, through December 31, 2001, nearly 38 million applications for firearms transfers were subject to background checks and some 840,000 (2.2 percent) applications were rejected. In 2001, 66,000 firearms purchase applications were rejected out of about 2.8 million applications (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002). Prospective purchasers were rejected because the applicant had a felony conviction or indictment (58 percent), domestic violence misdemeanor conviction or restraining order (14 percent), state law prohibition (7 percent), was a fugitive from justice (6 percent), or some other disqualification, such as having a drug addiction, documented mental illness, or a dishonorable discharge (16 percent) (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002).