A Pennsylvania state senator this week announced she is reintroducing legislation to force gun buyers to undergo three-day waiting periods before they take possession of their firearms.
State Senator Amanda Cappelletti (D-Norristown) wrote in a memorandum describing her bill that she believes the measure could reduce both violent crime and suicides. She stated that more than 60 percent of gun deaths are intentionally self-inflicted and said research has shown that many suicide survivors thought about taking the actions they did for less than 24 hours.
She reasoned that a mandatory waiting period for all gun transfers would give many troubled people time to reconsider. She also suggested such a law would allow some people’s short-term emotions that fuel aggression toward others to diminish.
“By delaying immediate access to firearms, waiting periods can help prevent impulsive acts of firearm violence, including firearm homicides and suicides,” Cappelletti insisted.
The senator touted the support of the American Medical Association, the National Parent Teacher Association, and the Giffords Law Center for waiting periods. Five states and the District of Columbia force all gun purchasers to postpone taking possession of their weapons, with Hawaiians having to wait the longest — 14 days. Four other states require waiting periods for some firearms, with only handgun buyers needing to wait a week to possess their guns in Maryland and New Jersey.
About 1,600 Pennsylvanians die each year by gunfire. But some experts warn that making gun recipients wait to take their weapons will fail to reduce such a figure and could harm people who want weapons for self-defense.
John R. Lott Jr., who heads the Montana-based Crime Prevention Research Center, said that even short waiting periods have correlated with higher rates of sexual assault.
“The problem that you face with waiting periods is that you make it difficult for people who need to get a gun quickly for self-defense from being able to obtain one,” he told The Pennsylvania Daily Star.
An author of numerous books about firearms, crime, and related issues, Lott further explained that while waiting periods could potentially impact the likelihood that someone commits suicide with a gun, they don’t prevent suicide by other means.
“There are so many ways that people could commit suicide that are just as lethal,” he said, noting that handgun bans in cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., did not discernibly impact the incidence of suicides. “You may see evidence of changes in the number of firearm suicides, but that’s not really the relevant question. The relevant question should be what happens to the total number of suicides that are there.”
Lott said this flaw in the rationale for waiting periods should be understood in a broader context regarding other gun-control proposals such as “red-flag” laws. These laws allow courts to require a citizen to temporarily forfeit a based on concern that the gun owner poses a danger to himself or others.
In a majority of cases, red-flag laws are invoked when someone is feared to be at risk of suicide, but, Lott said, they aren’t effective because they merely deprive a person of one means of self-harm. When someone poses a truly apparent danger to himself or herself, he reasoned, involuntary-commitment laws — versions of which exist in all 50 states — should be used instead to ensure the person’s safety.
Cappelletti’s legislation did not garner any Republican sponsors or receive consideration in the GOP-controlled state Senate last session, and her battle to pass it remains uphill. Pro-gun activists in the Keystone State have made clear they would vocally oppose the measure should it gain any traction among lawmakers.
“There have been many cases across the country where waiting periods have resulted in innocent lives lost,” Dawn Kapolka, director of Gun Owners of America’s Pennsylvania chapter, told The Daily Star via email. “Gun Owners of America takes a firm position against waiting periods pertaining to gun rights. GOA has fought every proposition such as these nationwide, and we will do everything we can to prevent this from becoming law in Pennsylvania. A right delayed is a right denied.”
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Amanda Cappelletti” by Amanda Cappelletti.