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Gun control foes take Brady complaints to Supreme Court

gun December 2, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Gun control opponents go before the Supreme Court Tuesday, arguing that the Brady gun control law is unconstitutional. The case could affect the reach of federal power over the states.

Montana Sheriff Jay Printz and Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack charge that Congress exceeded its power to direct local law enforcement officials in their duties.



Printz "I just run my Brady background check forms from my fax machine to my shredder. I don't do them."
-- Sheriff Jay Printz
   Ravalli County, Montana

They claim the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act violates the Constitution's 10th Amendment, which protects state and local governments from certain federal interference.

"I just run my Brady background check forms from my fax machine to my shredder. I don't do them," Printz said.

Printz and Mack want the Supreme Court to throw out the background checks that local officials are required to do during a five-day waiting period for anyone buying a handgun.

"I'm not a federal agent," Printz said.

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The 1993 law is named after former White House Press Secretary Jim Brady, who was shot in the head and partially paralyzed in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.

President Clinton signed the bill into law after a fierce battle between gun-control advocates led by Brady and his wife Sarah on the one side, and the National Rifle Association on the other.

Clinton said Monday he hoped the Supreme Court would uphold the Brady Law.

Brady

"I believe that we have clearly preserved the right to keep and bear arms, consistent with the Constitution in this country, but we have also made America a safer place," Clinton said.

The Bradys said a court ruling against the law would hurt the fight against crime.

"We're going to see fugitives and felons, eventually, being able to get guns much more easily," Sarah Brady said.

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But the National Rifle Association charges the federal government with overstepping its bounds. The group wants the high court to throw out the waiting period as well as the background checks.

The law requires a five-day waiting period before the sale of a handgun. During that time, local sheriffs must check on whether the prospective buyer has a felony record, a history of mental illness or drug use or other problems that would bar the sale.

It was the first gun-control measure passed by Congress since 1968. A ban on certain types of assault weapons has since been approved as well.

Mack contends the law forces him to divert deputies from crime-fighting duties with "no benefit to his office or his county." Mack was defeated in September by a candidate who said the sheriff's campaign against the Brady law kept him from fighting crime at home. He leaves office in January.

The local background checks were intended as an interim measure until a national computerized system becomes fully operational in late 1998.

While a court ruling against Brady now would not necessarily end the curbs on handguns, it would be a psychological blow to gun control.

Correspondent Anthony Collings and Reuters contributed to this report.

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