What’s Wrong With Waiting Periods

posted on May 7, 2015

Deferring the delivery of a firearm to its would-be owner for days after it has been purchased is a tactic long embraced by those who would curtail the right of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and their families. Yet most Second Amendment supporters realize that waiting periods—as rare as they are nowadays—can be dangerous to those needing to defend themselves against a known threat.

Consider the hypothetical case of a single Milwaukee mother who has been threatened by an ex-husband and has filed for a restraining order against him. Still, he has told her he plans to kill her and their kids the next time he sees them. Knowing a piece of paper won’t keep her safe, the mom goes to her local gun shop and picks out a revolver, only to learn she must wait two days to take possession of the gun. The next night her husband breaks into her house and, despite her begging and pleading, beats her to death with a hammer. That scenario is exactly what those pushing to get rid of Wisconsin’s mandatory waiting period on handguns sales want to avoid in the future. And the measure has met with some success so far.

Last month, Senate Bill 35 was passed by the Wisconsin state Senate on a voice vote. Authored by Republican State Sen. Van Wanggaard, the measure would repeal Wisconsin’s antiquated 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases. The measure is now under consideration in the State Assembly, and Gov. Scott Walker has previously indicated he’ll sign the measure if it makes its way to his desk.“Background checks can now be accomplished in hours instead of days. Why delay a law-abiding citizen the right to exercise their Second Amendment right to purchase a handgun?”—Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke

Wisconsin’s 48-hour rule for handgun purchases was first enacted in Wisconsin in 1976, prior to background checks on handgun sales. Due to the advent of instant background checks, such as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the 48-hour waiting period has become an unnecessary time tax on both the purchaser and the dealer. SB 35 would repeal the waiting period requirement and allow a licensed firearm dealer to transfer ownership of a handgun following notice from the Department of Justice that the background check indicates that the purchaser is not prohibited from possessing a firearm.  

Waiting periods are largely a thing of the past, and Wisconsin is far behind the times. In fact, the state is one of only eight that have a waiting period for transfer of firearms after a sale. And Wisconsin’s law only covers handgun sales—not sales of rifles and shotguns. Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke has been outspoken in support of repealing the waiting period mandate. He sees the law as a nuisance to law-abiding gun purchasers, while not being a deterrent to crime.

“Background checks can now be accomplished in hours instead of days,” Clarke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Why delay a law-abiding citizen the right to exercise their Second Amendment right to purchase a handgun?"

Still, many on the anti-gun side of the equation favor the waiting period—including the editorial board at the Sentinel

“Waiting periods are justified, given the often impulsive acts of people intent on hurting themselves or others,” the Sentinel printed in a recent op-ed piece. “Suicide, in particular, is often an impulsive act and often involves the use of a firearm. Do we need to make it easier? The same can be said for many domestic disputes.”

Fortunately for the hand-wringers at the Sentinel, the question of waiting period effectiveness has already been answered. An August 2000 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the federal waiting period in place during the 1990s and concluded it was not associated with reductions in homicide rates or overall suicide rates.

Such facts should be enough to change the minds of those anti-gunners pushing to keep the waiting period. Since many of them know the facts and still support the transfer delay, perhaps the thought of that single Milwaukee mother fighting for her life might make them rethink their position.

In closing, we’ll borrow a favorite line from the anti-gunners in wrapping up our case for repealing Wisconsin’s waiting period: “If even one life is saved, it will be worth it.”


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