Publication Date: 
Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Problem: Firearms are the second leading cause of injury and deaths in the United States accounting for 30,896 deaths and 71,417 injuries in 2006.  Over 80 percent of teen homicides and almost half of teen suicides in involved a gun in 2005. CDC: WISQUARS.  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.

A new firearms research database launched by the Harvard School of Public Health makes scholarly articles more accessible to reporters, law enforcement, public health officials, policymakers, and the general public. The Firearms Research Digest  provides summaries of articles gathered from social science, criminology, medical and public health journals and is written in clear, accessible language for use by those outside academia.

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.

Additional Resources: Brady Act National Instantaneous Criminal Background Check System The Firearms Research Digest

Impact: Uncertain