Brady Bill Packs Wallop for the Windy City

AT first glance, the gun dealers who have long made Chicago the nation's liveliest black market in firearms could understandably deride the Brady bill as the peashooter of gun-control laws.

After all, the bill does not affect Illinoisan gun dealers or their cohorts in 22 other states that enforce tougher restrictions against the sale of firearms.

Still, the new federal law packs a wallop for efforts to crack down on lawbreaking gun dealers and curtail carnage in the streets of Chicago and other cities, federal law-enforcement officials say.

In Illinois and elsewhere, the Brady bill will help thwart firearms traffickers who skirt gun-control laws by buying their wares in some of the 27 states that loosely restrict gun sales, says Jerry Singer, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in Chicago.

The Brady bill is far from the complete answer to the wanton trade in firearms. But it reinforces the efforts of states like Illinois that have met the issue head-on and sets a crucial nationwide standard for the safe, legitimate sale of guns, officials and gun-control advocates say.

Interstate firearms traffickers apparently haul frequent, heavy loads into Illinois. About 1 of 3 guns recovered by law-enforcement officials in Chicago and surrounding communities comes from other states, Mr. Singer says.

Some 25,000 guns were seized in and around Chicago last year, more than in any other metropolitan region in the United States, he adds.

``What we've seen is that a number of people simply go down to southern states like Arkansas, Florida, Texas, and Alabama, which have much less restrictive laws, purchase handguns and then just come back to Chicago and sell them on the streets,'' Singer says.

Although Illinois police enforce one of the strictest laws against gun sales in the country, Chicago still remains ``the magnet for the illicit gun trade,'' according to Singer. Chicago hungry for guns

``Chicago has always had a large appetite for firearms,'' Singer says.

The Brady bill, despite its comparative weakness, should help reduce the gun mongering. When the bill takes effect in about three months, it will require the vetting of purchasers for a criminal background or mental disorders.

The law will also require that the buyers of handguns wait five days between purchase and pickup of their merchandise. The federal government will replace the waiting period with a computerized ``instant check'' system within five years.

The Brady bill will establish increased regulations in states where a gun buyer now only has to show a driver's license and give written assurance that he has never been convicted of a felony.

Illinois gun controls are more far-reaching than the Brady bill. Since 1968, the state has required that gun buyers obtain a Firearms Owner Identification Card, a process that can take up to 30 days. Some 1.1 million Illinoisans are card-carrying gun owners.

The applicant must be at least 21 years old or have the written consent of a parent or guardian. He must not have been convinced of a felony, be addicted to narcotics, have a record of mental instability, or be mentally retarded.

After an ID holder purchases a gun, he must wait 24 hours before picking up a ``long gun'' and 72 hours before acquiring a handgun. Meanwhile, the gun dealer must call the state police at a 1-900 number to verify that the buyer's card is still valid.

Since the state police launched the Firearm Transfer Inquiry Program (F-TIP) Jan. 1, 1992, it has received 319,365 calls from gun dealers. Of those, it has barred purchases in 2,062 cases and prompted the arrest of 714 would-be buyers who were wanted for criminal activity, according to the Illinois Department of State Police. Illinois as a model

``Illinois gun controls have been a national model in some respects,'' says Dan Kotowski, project coordinator at the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Still, the Illinois program is far from perfect. Critics of the F-TIP system say that the computer records of the police are up to two years behind schedule.

``The problem we see with our own law and computer records in this state is the fact that they're not up to date,'' Mr. Kotowski says.

Local law-enforcement agencies are sometimes slow in providing the state with information for F-TIP, according to Mark McDonald, a spokeman with the Illinois State Police.

Still, ``we're satisfied with how the system works, and it's getting better. Local agencies are getting better at reporting to us,'' Mr. McDonald says.

Advocates for gun control and law-enforcement officials see both the Brady bill and Illinois laws as just the first diggings in the broad spadework necessary for uprooting the problem of violence involving firearms.

``The Brady bill will have an impact on crime, but it's just one step. There are many steps that need to be taken,'' Singer says.

For instance, lawmakers should ban the manufacture of assault weapons and begin programs to encourage an intolerance among children for violence, according to officials and gun-control advocates.

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