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BRADY BILL IS A REASONABLE STEP

Acting at their annual convention in Salt Lake City this week, the International Association of Chiefs of Police made an important voice heard in the debate over gun control.

Though the chiefs' endorsement of the controversial Brady bill is welcome, it probably didn't tell the U.S. Senate much it didn't already know as the lawmakers consider a seven-day waiting period for buying handguns.After all, the Brady bill is supported by every major law enforcement agency in the country. Polls also show support from more than 90 percent of the public.

What clearer signal could the Senate want this week as it considers its own version of the Brady bill, which contains some significant improvements over the House-passed version? The main improvements would tie a mandatory check of criminal rec-ords to federal incentives for the states to improve their records systems.

Meanwhile, the Senate should be well aware by now that about half the states already have a waiting period to get a handgun. The waiting periods range from two days to 15 days, creating a hodge-podge for lawmen trying to cooperate across state lines.

Despite this handicap, the waiting periods are helpful even though they are no cure-all for violent crime. For instance, Utah Rep. Wayne Owens recently noted that in New Jersey alone, over the last 20 years of background checks, more than 10,000 felons have been prevented from purchasing handguns.

That's important because, contrary to widespread myth, an alarming number of criminals obtain their weapons through legal channels by lying on application forms. A study by the Department of Justice shows that at least 21 percent of criminals nationwide buy their handguns from licensed dealers.

By contrast, few law-abiding persons would be unduly inconvenienced by the proposed waiting period. Target shooting, gun collecting and protecting one's home are legitimate reasons to own a handgun, as the Constitution recognizes, but none of them requires immediate purchase.

Now the Senate should take the advice of the police chiefs and put the Brady bill on the law books.