‘Printz’ Will Have Effect on U.S. Gun Legislation

by Stephen P. Halbrook
Published in National Law Journal, Aug. 18, 1997

As one of the counsel who argued Printz v. U.S., 65 U.S.L.W. 4731, in the Supreme Court, I take issue with Handgun Control Inc.’s Dennis Henigan’s claim that the ruling will not affect future gun legislation. [“Podium,” NLJ, July 28.]

When the Brady Act became effective, in 1994, HCI pushed H.R. 3932 and S. 1882 as “Brady II.” Brady II would have imposed the most onerous firearms prohibitions ever foisted on the American people, and it would have been enforced via the impressment of the states. Printz precludes these radical schemes.

Brady II would have required the states to mandate the licensing and the fingerprinting of handgun owners and would have banned all handgun transfers in any state that did not comply. State chief law enforcement officers, or CLEOs, would have been required to administer the law. The states also would have been required to enact handgun registration.

In addition, the bills would have required state CLEOs to investigate people who possessed more than 20 guns or 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Gun collectors and sportsmen would have been required to obtain an “arsenal license” and waive their Fourth Amendment rights.

Regarding what remains of Brady I, the waiting period was billed as having no purpose other than to allow for background checks of gun purchasers, which the Supreme Court invalidated. And not only will police not “continue” to do the checks, they never did them in the first place. While Brady I required officers to check all available state and local records, the pro-Brady Act amici curiae brief filed in the high court on behalf of 13 states admitted that officers were checking only the National Crime Information Center records. Federal employees could have been doing that all along.

Printz noted that state pre-emption laws may prohibit local officers’ involvement in handgun transactions; 20 of the 23 states where the Brady Act applies – that is, those without their own system of checking on gun purchasers – have such laws. Not one of those 23 states authorizes the expenditure of resources or personnel for nonstatutory purposes. Yet President Clinton and Attorney General Reno are encouraging law enforcement officers to “volunteer” for Brady checks even if prohibited or unauthorized by state law.