Waiting periods on firearms don’t work, period. They are not associated with a decrease in homicide rates, and they expose vulnerable individuals—such as abused women and residents of neighborhoods plagued by gang violence—to unjustifiable risk. Laws enforcing waiting periods are largely relics of the past, illustrations of that saying that insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Fortunately, the state of Wisconsin has seen the light. Last week the state legislature approved Senate Bill 35, which will eliminate the 48-hour “cooling off” period required for the purchase of a handgun. The waiting period originated primarily as an attempt to leave sufficient time for a background check before a firearm made its way into the hands of its owner. No one would be able to argue that this justification holds water today, as instant background checks have been the norm for years.Contrary to what SB 35’s strident opponents would have you believe, there is no substantive scientific debate at this juncture: Waiting periods for firearms simply do not prevent homicides.
Opponents of the bill raised alarms about the risks of abolishing waiting periods—the only piece of gun legislation that actually worked to reduce crime, they said! While we can appreciate the implied verdict on other gun-control measures, it is bizarre in 2015 to claim with a straight face that waiting periods are effective. For all of the anti-gunner hand-wringing about the supposed gag on firearm policy research—meaning only a lack of federal funding for the biased studies produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—this subject has been thoroughly researched in the past 20 years.
Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, SB 35’s primary sponsor in the Wisconsin Senate, countered that there is no statistical proof of waiting periods driving down homicide or violent crime rates, and a piece from fact-checking service Politifact confirmed—perhaps a bit grudgingly?—that he was correct. The studies cited in this verdict range from a 2000 examination of the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1994, all the way to a sweeping meta-analysis of gun-control policy from 2012. Even the CDC couldn’t claim that waiting periods provided any check on violent crime!
Contrary to what SB 35’s strident opponents would have you believe, there is no substantive scientific debate at this juncture: Waiting periods for firearms simply do not prevent homicides. What they do is to make it inconvenient to buy a gun—where anti-gun politicians can’t outright disarm you, they try to throw up as many obstacles as possible in the hopes that you’ll eventually run out of time, money or commitment. By doing away with this outdated and pointless law, Wisconsin legislators have done their constituents a great, if overdue, service.
SB 35 was approved by the Wisconsin Senate on a vote of 22-11 and by the Assembly in a voice vote without debate. It will soon be on the desk of Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to sign it into law. Many thanks to the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Van Wanggaard and Rep. Romaine Quinn, and the legislature as a whole for freeing Wisconsin residents from this unreasonable restriction.