Publication Date: 
Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Problem: Firearms accounted for 39,659 deaths 2017., with 14,542 of firearm deaths due to homicide . CDC: Faststats . Overall, more than half of all homicides involve a gun. US Department of Justice: Crime Statistics. 

The Law: The federal government, through the Interim Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, in place from 1993 to 1998, established a five-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm. In 1998, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (18 U.S.C. §921-922) updated the Interim Brady Law, replacing the five day waiting period and the mandatory background check conducted by law enforcement officials with an instant computerized background check that typically takes a few seconds (but may take up to three days). Some states have implemented longer waiting periods; for example, California’s waiting period is 10 days (Cal. Penal Code §§ 12071(b)(3)(A), 12072(c)(1)) and New York’s waiting period can be up to six months (NY PEN § 400.00(4-a)). The aim of waiting periods is to allow time to complete background checks on the purchaser and to provide time for individuals with impulsive violent intentions to “cool off.”

The Evidence: Hahn et al. reviewed seven studies that measured the effects of waiting periods on murder, aggravated assault, robbery, rape, firearm-related suicide, and unintentional firearm injury. Hahn, et al. Firearms laws and the reduction of violence: a systemic review. Am J Prev Med. 2005;28(2S1):40-71. The reviewers found the underlying studies to have a number of methodological limitations. The findings of the underlying studies were inconsistent and or statistically insignificant.  For there reasons, the reviewers were unable to determine the effectiveness of waiting periods laws as interventions aimed at reducing gun-related harms.

The Bottom Line: In the judgment of a Community Guide expert panel, there is insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of waiting period laws as public health interventions aimed at preventing gun-related violence and suicide.

Additional Information: For more information on the Brady Act National Instantaneous Criminal Background Check System (NICS), see the FBI’s NICS factsheet.

The website currently covers six years of research published between 2003 and 2008. The digest will be expanded over time to include articles from 1988 to the present.

Impact: Uncertain