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The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether Congress, through the Brady gun law, can require local law enforcement officials to check the backgrounds of prospective gun buyers.

The court said it will hear the appeals of sheriffs in Montana and Arizona who say the federal law unconstitutionally requires state officials to provide enforcement.A federal appeals court upheld the law in the Montana and Arizona cases. But in March, another appeals court ruled that the law violates state sovereignty.

In other action, the court:

- Agreed to decide whether states may confine "sexually violent predators" who have served their prison sentences but who suffer from a "mental abnormality or personality disorder" that make them dangerous.

- Ordered a federal appeals court to restudy a Cincinnati charter amendment that denies dis- crimination protection to homosexuals. The ruling was in light of the high court's decision last month striking down a similar Colorado measure, giving gay-rights advocates a major victory.

- Said women raped and tortured in the former Yugoslavia could sue Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in the United States for crimes against humanity.

The Brady law, which took effect in March 1994, 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 illegal drug use or some other problem that would make the sale illegal.

The federal government is required to create by late 1998 a national system for instantly checking criminal background.

The Brady law was passed after bitter congressional battles and was strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association. It was named after former presidential press secretary James Brady, seriously wounded in the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

Sheriff Jay Printz of Ravalli County, Mont., and Sheriff Richard Mack of Graham County, Ariz., challenged the law in federal court.

Printz said his department is understaffed and that conducting the background checks would force him to take deputies off patrol and investigation duties. Mack said the gun law shifts its primary enforcement burden onto local officials.

Federal judges in Montana and Arizona ruled that the federal government could not require local officials to conduct the background checks.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed those rulings last September, saying the requirement was a minor burden similar to "the federally imposed duties of state officers to report missing children or traffic fatalities."

In the appeals acted on Monday, lawyers for Mack and Printz said Congress cannot constitutionally force local officials to administer the Brady law.

"They may not be conscripted against their will as the foot soldiers in a federal crusade," Printz's lawyers said.