Washington The federal Brady Act requiring a criminal background check of handgun buyers has had no measurable effect on gun homicide and suicide rates in the 32 states that had to strengthen their regulations to meet the 1994 law, a study says.
Gun-related crime has been falling across the country, but research published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found no evidence that the Brady law made a difference.
The researchers found a link, however, between a provision, now expired, in the Brady Act that required a waiting period and a drop in firearms suicides among people over age 55. That age group is particularly prone to suicide attempts and tends to own fewer guns, the authors noted, and the waiting period may have given them time to reconsider.
The research, which questions the effectiveness of the landmark gun control legislation, provoked fierce responses in the politically charged debate over gun laws.
The National Rifle Assn. seized on the study as evidence for its arguments that gun regulation does not reduce crime. Gun control supporters criticized the research as an inadequate measure of the success or failure of the Brady bill.
The study's authors speculate that the impact of the Brady Act may be undermined by "an enormous loophole." The criminal background checks are required only when firearms are purchased from federally licensed gun stores. By law, the background checks are waived for private transactions such as sales made at gun shows or through classified ads.
The Clinton administration has been lobbying Congress to require background checks for sales made at gun shows.
Since the Brady Act took effect in 1994, there has been a major reduction in all types of crime, including firearms homicides.
Moreover, the rate of crimes involving the use of guns has fallen even more rapidly than the overall crime rate. The violent crime rate fell by 24 percent from 1993 to 1998, but the rate of gun crimes declined by 40 percent, according to the FBI.
The authors of the study sought to isolate the impact of the Brady Act from other factors by using the states with pre-existing criminal background check requirements as a control group.
They compared the record of those states with the progress of states that imposed Brady requirements for criminal history checks after 1994.
They considered only adult suicide and homicide rates because juveniles are prohibited from legally purchasing guns.