Sheriffs challenge Brady law before Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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,” said 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 an 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 Tuesday, 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.”
However, previous decisions by the high court suggest some justices may be sympathetic to a states’ rights argument.
The justices struck down a federal law that banned gun possession within 1,000 feet of schools in 1995, saying the states — not Congress — had the authority to enact such criminal laws.
Last April, the court signaled a further shift in the balance of power between states and the federal government when it said Congress cannot force states into federal court to settle disputes over gambling on Indian reservations.
The Brady law was enacted by Congress over bitter opposition from gun-control opponents, including the National Rifle Association.
The measure is named after James Brady, who was seriously wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. Brady, who pushed for the law, has urged the high court not to “mess with success.”
The 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.
The Clinton administration estimates that the law prevented firearm sales to more than 60,000 criminals in two years.
But lawyers for Printz and Mack say Congress cannot make local officials perform background checks.
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 two sheriffs are supported in friend-of-the-court briefs filed by the National Conference of State Legislatures and Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming.
However, other states are supporting the Brady law: Maryland, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers’ Association also back the law.
Federal officials argue that even if the high court rules Congress cannot require local officials to conduct background checks, the Brady law’s five-day waiting period can remain in force.