THE House of Representatives' unexpectedly strong approval of the Brady handgun-control bill last week is a welcome milestone on America's long road toward a sane firearms policy. The act would impose a nationwide seven-day waiting period on purchasers of handguns. Dealers would be required to furnish information about handgun purchasers to local police, who during the waiting period could conduct background checks for criminal convictions or mental-health problems. Would the Brady bill significantly cut gun-related violence in the US? Probably not. The National Rifle Association and other opponents of the measure point out that most violent criminals get their guns on the black market, and that many potentially dangerous gun buyers would slip through background screening by using surrogate purchasers.
Nonetheless, statistics on intercepted gun purchases from states with waiting-period laws can't be ignored. And the waiting period would allow tempers to cool in flareups that, today, result all too often in shooting deaths.
If the Brady bill saved only a handful of lives a year, it would be worth the minimal ``inconvenience'' to law-abiding gun buyers that the NRA complains about.
Perhaps most important, enactment of the Brady bill would get lawmakers accustomed to backing reasonable controls on guns. Many will find that, contrary to their longtime concern, political thunderbolts won't strike them down for opposing the gun lobby. Indeed, many will bask in the heartfelt gratitude of a populace fed up with soaring murder rates. The Brady bill is just a step in the right direction, but its passage could alter the political dynamics of the gun-control issue.
The bill faces a tough fight in the Senate, and President Bush has threatened to veto it. But the Senate and the White House should heed the signal that the political tides are shifting.