Why 72-Hour Waiting Period Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

In Pennsylvania, there’s an effort to institute a 72-hour waiting period before buying a gun. This is a somewhat popular bit of gun control, one that many people really don’t see the problem with. After all, they’ve never bought a gun in a hurry, so why would anyone need to?

Of course, proponents of the law don’t just claim that no one needs to buy a gun on short notice. No, they also claim that it will save tons of lives.

Recognizing — and managing — impulsivity can save lives and greatly reduce potentially harmful situations.

We’ve all been mad as hell at some point, our brains and bodies reacting in real time to stressors and undesirable outcomes. Sometimes we internalize the strife; other times we lash out, hopefully with no more than a loud yell.

But it happens. We are human beings, and that means we are flawed.

When guns are added to the impulsive stew, though, the potential for deadly outcomes increases dramatically.

This is why we believe the institution of a 72-hour waiting period for all firearm transfers in Pennsylvania is a smart, practical idea. And this is why we — state Reps. Ben Sanchez and Mike Zabel — have again introduced legislation that would make this a reality in our commonwealth.

Waiting periods work.

In 1994, Congress passed The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which imposed a five-day waiting period for handguns purchased from licensed dealers. In the four years between the time the law was passed and when it was eliminated in 1998, there was a 17% drop-off in gun homicides and a 6% reduction in gun suicides across the country.

It should be noted, however, that following this same period, gun violence continued to drop well after the law was repealed, which tells us that the waiting periods had absolutely nothing at all to do with the drop in firearm-related homicides.

If you’re going to use a statistic to try and make your case, you need to make sure that it really does make your case.

If waiting periods were the solution, then their repeal should have led to an almost immediate rise in firearm homicides, but it didn’t. Gun homicides continued dropping year after year for decades following the repeal of the waiting period requirement at the federal level.

On the same token, firearm-related suicides began dipping before the waiting periods began and continued after they were repealed. At best, a waiting period may keep a handful of people from committing suicide. These are the people who are making an impulsive decision or who, during the waiting period, get much-needed psychological help. However, there’s really no conclusive proof that these account for even the majority of firearm-related suicides.

See, waiting periods only look like a good idea when you take a very narrow snapshot of a situation and then pretend that’s the totality of what you’re looking at.

At the beginning of the above-linked post, they start with a story about being mad and trying to buy a gun to murder someone, but again, how often is that the case? Oh, sure, it happens, but it’s rare. Most of the time, the homicides we see are people killed either with illegally-obtained firearms or people using guns they already owned. Again, how will waiting periods help?

I mean, we all know that black market gun dealers don’t enforce waiting periods and we know that if you already have a gun, a waiting period isn’t any kind of obstacle, so it’s not difficult to see how little good these waiting periods do.

However, I’m going to counter their hypothetical example with one of my own.

A young woman realizes she has a stalker. She went out with a guy one time, but he became obsessed with her. She tried to brush it off, but now he’s threatening her, telling her that he’ll kill her if he can’t be with her. She’s scared. She took out a restraining order against him, but she has reason to believe he’s violated it more than once.

So, she goes to get a gun so she can protect herself. She’s over 21, so she opts for a handgun. She’s got the money and a clean criminal record. However, she’s told she has to wait 72-hours to pick up the gun.

Now, this isn’t good, but what can she do? She goes home and waits.

Unfortunately, she’s killed two days later by the stalker.

Think that doesn’t or can’t happen? Sure it can.

See, when you look at a law, you need to see if it will do more harm than good. I’ve already made my case that waiting periods don’t actually help, but stories like this and countless others are why it will hurt. I’ve met people who needed a gun just a day or two after buying it, people who would have been dead had there been a waiting period in place, so yeah, they exist.

I get the thinking of these kinds of things, but it won’t yield the results some people believe.