Facts, Not Emotion or Rhetoric, Guide Good Policy

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s reflexive editorial opposing the repeal of the 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases is high on rhetoric. Unfortunately, it is mostly devoid of facts. For every gun violence story that the Journal Sentinel cited as a reason for this antiquated law, I could write an equally emotional story showing that a firearm saved a life, or that the waiting period cost someone his or her life. But good policy decisions are made based on facts, not on emotion. And the facts support repealing the law.

Calling the waiting period a “Cooling Off” period feels good, but ultimately, it’s just a talking point. The relationship between a mandated waiting period and gun crimes has been studied by groups ranging from the American Medical Association and the University of Chicago Law School.  Study after study has shown that a waiting period hasn’t made any difference in overall gun crimes, homicides or suicides. There is even some evidence that it may actually increase gun crime.

The fact is that if someone is going to commit a violent crime, they’re going to find a way to do it with or without a handgun. Knives, rifles, hatchets (all of which have been used recently in violent crimes) are available without a waiting period or a background check.

I was a police officer in Racine in 1976, when the current waiting period was enacted, and I remember what it was like. If we got a request, we searched large file cabinets of 3x5 index cards, hoping the name was filed alphabetically and correctly. If an arrest record was found, we would go to another room of file cabinets and pull a report to get further information. And that was only for the arrests in our city. Arrests in another jurisdiction like Union Grove or Caledonia, wouldn’t be available to us or the state. In those days, a background check might take a minimum of 48 hours. In 1976, 48 hours made sense.

Compare those file cabinets to the sharing between communities today. When a background check is started now, 11 different datasites with dozens of different databases are searched with the click of a button. Virtually everything is checked nationwide- domestic abuse restraining orders, mental health adjudications, warrants, DMV records and CCAP to name just a few.  If something is flagged, records are pulled and more information is gathered. The Department of Justice has 5 days to approve or deny. And if for some reason a firearm is handed over before the background check is completed, DOJ contacts both the local police department and ATF to recover the weapon. Law enforcement is committed to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and those that can’t possess them.

In virtually every recent case of gun violence in Milwaukee, the wrongdoer was breaking the law – including the hit and run case cited. Those guns weren’t purchased legally. Those guns weren’t possessed legally. The guns weren’t transferred to the wrongdoer legally. Stricter gun laws would have only meant more laws broken, they wouldn’t have stopped the crimes.

Unfortunately, the judicial system in Milwaukee doesn’t seem to prioritize gun crimes. The Mayor has chosen to not fund 200 police officers the city needs, but did fund a streetcar. Even if the police made arrests, Milwaukee has a District Attorney who doesn’t prosecute nearly half of all gun possession crimes. Even if the DA would prosecute, the judges in Milwaukee seem to follow a catch-and-release policy of not locking up violent criminals possessing guns.

Legal firearm owners and potential victims of crimes across the state shouldn’t be punished for the failure of Milwaukee’s judicial system. And they don’t need more hurdles to own a firearm. Stricter gun laws are not the answer to solving violent crime in Milwaukee. Enforcement of the current laws would be a good start.