Brady Bill's Icebreaker

THE long-anticipated Brady gun-control law finally took effect this week. As might be expected, the most committed detractors of the country's first nationwide handgun law remain convinced that it is a major step toward depriving law-abiding citizens of the means of securing home, family, and sport-shooting.

But those, like us, who see virtually no benefit and considerable likelihood of trouble in an unrestricted ``right to bear arms'' are pleased with the enactment of the bill. Although even Capitol Hill supporters acknowledge that without further restrictions the Brady law's impact is likely to be minimal, that the measure became law at all indicates Congress's increasing readiness to follow public sentiment rather than succumb to the gun lobby's pressure.

The drive for the law was initiated and led by Sarah Brady, wife of James Brady, who was President Reagan's press secretary in 1981. Mr. Reagan and Mr. Brady were shot by an assailant, later determined to be mentally disturbed; Brady was left disabled.

The drive to establish the new handgun law was at first seen by many as an ineffective nuisance. But, as it gathered supporters and momentum, Handgun Control's detractors went to the other extreme, labeling it as the despoiler of both personal safety and recreational pleasure.

Having succeeded in getting a number of state legislatures to pass handgun control laws, the Brady organization took its case to Congress. President Clinton signed the law Nov. 30, 1993. Implementation was delayed to give dealers ample time to comply with its requirements.

Meanwhile, the Brady campaign was picking up converts. It was given a major boost when the Virginia Legislature passed a gun-control bill that required a five-day waiting period for gun purchases. The new federal law also requires a five-day wait for gun purchases, as well as mandatory background checks for prospective handgun purchasers.

At this point it appears that the Brady organization has accomplished something few others have by taking on the vaunted lobbying power of the National Rifle Association and winning. Nevertheless, that accomplishment is only a beginning.

This week the Clinton administration tightened restrictions on certain types of rapid-fire shotguns said to be favored by drug dealers and initially designed for combat. And Rep. Charles Schumer (D) of New York introduced a bill to place further requirements on the sale and ownership of firearms generally.

Those determined to keep gun use under control are clearly buoyed by the Brady bill's success - buoyancy they'll need as they face the next round of gun-control battles.

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