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A study suggests that waiting periods reduce firearm homicides by 17%.
Other studies have found a correlation between waiting periods and a reduction in suicides.
- But many guns are obtained legally, or from unlicensed sellers, and by definition, “crimes of passion” are not premeditated; they happen in the moment.
On Feb. 2, 2016, Caroline Nosal, 24, of Stoughton, was shot to death by a 26-year-old former co-worker outside the grocery store where she worked – and from where the assailant was suspended, then fired for harassing Nosal.
Exactly six years later, her father, James Nosal, spoke at a Madison news conference where a pair of Democratic lawmakers announced a bill that would reinstate a 48-hour waiting period on handgun purchases in Wisconsin. In 2015, then-Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill repealing the nearly 40-year-old provision, arguing that it was outdated because background checks could now be performed so much faster than before.
In pushing for a renewed 48-hour period at the news conference, James Nosal asked of the man who killed his daughter: "If he had had to wait 48 hours, would he have rethought his plan?"
State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, is sponsoring the bill — which is a longshot in the Republican-controlled Legislature – with state Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison.
According to an analysis of current law by the Legislative Reference Bureau, before a federally licensed firearms dealer may transfer a handgun after a sale, the dealer must have the Department of Justice perform a background check to determine if the purchaser is prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal or state law.
In a Feb. 2 tweet, Stubbs described the need this way:
"48-Hour waiting periods limit crimes of passion and keep our communities safe. Every weapon has the ability to permanently impact individuals, families, and entire communities. Without a waiting period, we allow impulsive decisions to result in terrible consequences."
We’re interested in the first sentence: Do such waiting periods "limit crimes of passion and keep our communities safe"? And, if so, what research supports it?
When asked for backup, Stubbs cited a 2017 study published by researchers from the Harvard Business School that examined the impact of waiting periods in the United States from 1970 to 2014.
According to the study, waiting periods reduced firearm homicides by 17% and states with waiting periods avoided around 750 homicides per year.
Stubbs also cited a 2018 Behavioral Scientist article, "The Case for Handgun Waiting Periods," by the same researchers who noted that "research from behavioral economics and psychology has found that intense emotions like anger and sadness — ‘visceral factors,’ in academic language — can cause people to take actions they later regret, such as resorting to gun violence."
The researcher went on to say that those intense emotions are often transitory.
"Given sufficient time to cool off, the types of intense negative emotions that lead to violent tendencies can pass," the researchers wrote. "This suggests that inserting even a short delay in the gun-buying process has the potential to reduce gun violence, without restricting anyone’s right to own a gun."
Finally, she cited a Wisconsin-focused study, published Feb. 21, 2021, that examined suicide rates in the wake of the repeal of the waiting period in Wisconsin. Using state mortality data, the researchers concluded that the repeal "correlated with the increase of firearm-related suicides among Wisconsin residents of color and Wisconsinites residing in urban counties."
John Gross, a clinical associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Law, told us it can be hard to determine how a particular policy change, such as waiting periods, impacts crime rates or public safety.
"When it comes to waiting periods, older studies have shown mixed results," he said in an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin. "Some have shown a small decrease in gun violence while others found no correlation between waiting periods and gun violence."
Thomas Leager, executive director of Waupaca-based Wisconsin Gun Owners Inc., argued that a waiting period does not by itself stop a crime, particularly if a gun is bought "off the black market."
(Indeed, in Wisconsin, and many other states, background checks are not required for purchase of any guns from sellers who are not federally licensed dealers. This is the "loophole" that gun-control activists often cite — sales between friends, online or unlicensed dealers at gun shows).
Leager also noted that a waiting period could prevent people from getting a gun in time to protect themselves: "A waiting period for a woman who is being stalked or harassed could literally be deadly."
Setting the rhetoric aside, when it comes to the "keeping communities safe" aspect of the claim, there are studies that support Stubbs’ claim, but there are many situations where a gun could still be obtained without any such wait. So, that information is missing.
Stubbs’ claim is more problematic when it comes to her assertion that waiting periods would reduce "crimes of passion." On the surface, it would seem obvious: If you don’t have a gun at the time, you can’t shoot someone in that moment.
But the very definition, a "crime of passion" involves an illegal action committed in the heat of the moment in response to provocation (as opposed to an illegal act that was premeditated or deliberate). So if a gun were involved in such an incident, the perpetrator would already have it.
Gross, the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, noted that recent studies have found a correlation between waiting periods and a reduction in suicides.
"The most common form of gun violence is actually suicide," he wrote. "So, if Rep. Stubbs is including suicide as a ‘crime of passion,’ which the correlation between delaying the purchase of a gun and decreased suicide rates suggests it is, then the statement is true."
At the same time, Gross noted that many believe suicide should not be considered a crime, so designating it as a "crime of passion" could be misleading.
Finally, he said, there is plenty of evidence that the presence of a gun in a home significantly increases the chances that one partner will commit homicide.
"For example, one study showed that direct access to guns during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a female victim’s homicide compared to other acts of violence by 11 times," Gross said. "What we don’t know is whether a waiting period significantly impacts the rate of gun ownership over the long term, which would then reduce the number of homes where there was a gun and, consequently, would reduce the rate of intimate partner violence or ‘crimes of passion.’ "
Stubbs claimed "48-Hour waiting periods limit crimes of passion and keep our communities safe."
Some studies have shown reductions in homicides in states with a waiting period, but many guns are obtained illegally or through sellers where background checks are not required. Meanwhile, "crimes of passion," by their very definition, happen in the moment, so if a gun were involved in such cases, the perpetrator would already have it. That said, studies show a waiting period can reduce suicides.
So, there is some evidence for both parts of the claim, as well as factors that muddy the water.
For a statement that is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, our rating is Half True.
Twitter, state Rep. Shelia Stubbs, Feb. 2, 2022
Email, State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, Feb. 9, 2022
Email, John Gross, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Feb. 14, 2022
Email, Thomas Leager, Wisconsin Gun Owners Inc., Feb. 14, 2022
Gov. Scott Walker, Twitter, June 24, 2015
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Bill to end 48-hour wait for gun purchases gets hearing," March 11, 2015.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "A Milwaukee police officer was shot near North 21st Street and West St. Paul Avenue one day after sheriff's deputy was injured in a shooting," Jan. 28, 2022.
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence "Wisconsin Scorecard" January 2020.
Fox6 News "Homicide in Madison: 26-year-old man tells investigators co-worker he killed "ruined his life," Feb. 7, 2017.
WKOW.com "Democrats introduce gun safety legislation in honor of Caroline Nosal," Feb. 2, 2022
Harvard Business School in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences "Handgun waiting periods reduce gun deaths," Nov. 14, 2017.
National Library of Medicine "The association between repealing the 48-hour mandatory waiting period on handgun purchases and suicide rates in Wisconsin," Feb. 2021.
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