Montana, Arizona Sheriffs Challenging Gun-Control Law

Two county sheriffs from Montana and Arizona are challenging the Brady gun-control law before the Supreme Court, arguing the federal government cannot require local police to help enforce the measure.

Sheriffs’ departments may not “be conscripted for a federal crusade,” say lawyers for Jay Printz, sheriff of Ravalli County, Mont. Also seeking to overturn the law is Sheriff Richard Mack of Graham County, Ariz.

But government lawyers say the 1993 Brady law is a legal effort to curb a “national epidemic of gun violence,” and “there is no constitutional rule preventing Congress from devising a national solution and then requiring limited local assistance.”

“I believe it’s constitutional,” President Clinton told reporters Monday. “Tens of thousands of people with criminal backgrounds and other serious problems couldn’t get handguns because of the Brady law. … People are alive today because of it.”

After hearing arguments in the case today, the justices are expected to issue a ruling by next July.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Brady law in 1995, saying the requirement was a minor burden similar to “the federally imposed duties of state officers to report missing children or traffic fatalities.”

The Brady law requires a five-day waiting period before the sale of a handgun. During that time, local authorities must make a “reasonable effort” to find out if the buyer has a felony record, a history of mental illness or drug use, or some other problem that would make the sale illegal.

By late 1998, the federal government is to create a national system to provide instant criminal background checks.

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