Washington, DC (Vocus) December 1, 2008
Fifteen years ago today, President William Jefferson Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law, America's first critical step toward requiring criminal background checks for all firearm purchases in order to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
A new Brady Center report, called Brady Background Checks: 15 Years of Saving Lives, details the Brady Law's long record of success, available here: http://www.bradycenter.org/xshare/pdf/reports/brady-law-15years.pdf. A true success story, the law has blocked 1.6 million bad sales to felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill and other prohibited purchasers - but the nation still allows too many sales to go forward without a Brady background check.
"This is a happy anniversary, but a reminder that we need to do more," said Sarah Brady, Chair of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"Every day, Brady criminal background checks help save lives, reduce gun crime, and keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Center. "Though just one of a handful of federal gun laws on the books, Americans can take pride in the Brady Law as a prime example of how strong gun laws work to protect our communities and our families," Helmke said. "But while we celebrate the Brady Law's huge success, we also must remember that too many sales - from so-called 'private sellers' at gun shows, through classified ads and by word of mouth - still don't require background checks," Helmke said.
Many Americans are too young to remember the long struggle to get the Brady Law passed by the Brady Center (formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc.) and Sarah Brady, the Republican activist and wife of former Reagan Press Secretary Jim Brady, who was wounded in an assassination attempt on President Reagan in March of 1981. Though Sarah Brady had been profoundly impacted by her husband's shooting, what made her become an activist for sensible gun laws was finding an unattended handgun next to her young son in a pickup truck - the gun's owner was the father of one of Sarah's son's friends, and was dropping the boy off after a play date.
Years earlier, in 1968, Congress had passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, the 1968 Gun Control Act, establishing categories of individuals who would be prohibited from purchasing firearms. But from 1968 until the Brady Law was signed in late 1993 and took effect three months later, gun dealers were not required to check to see if a prospective buyer was a prohibited purchaser. The would-be Presidential assassin who shot President Reagan and Jim Brady would have been rejected from purchasing a gun if a background check system had been in place.
The 1.6 million prohibited purchasers blocked from buying guns from licensed gun dealers include an estimated 842,000 convicted felons, 236,000 domestic abusers and 68,000 fugitives from justice. And in the 15 years since the Brady Law took effect, many types of gun crimes have dropped, including gun homicides. The total combined number of robberies and aggravated assaults committed with firearms decreased from 564,648 in 1993 to 377,331 in 2006, a decrease of 33 percent. And after the signing of the Brady Law, gun murders declined 32 percent, from 17,048 in 1993 to 11,566 in 2006.
Sarah Brady, who worked tirelessly for more than eight years to secure passage of the Brady Law, urged lawmakers to finish the job.
"Take it from Jim and me, this happy anniversary shows that background checks make a difference. But there is much more work to do," Mrs. Brady said. "Loopholes in the Brady Law mean about 40 percent of all gun sales in America take place without background checks. That means too many dangerous people are allowed to slip through the cracks and easily purchase firearms, fueling the illegal gun market and putting children and families at risk," Mrs. Brady said. "Jim and I urge the Obama Administration and the new Congress to take effective action to improve public safety by requiring Brady criminal background checks for all gun sales."
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is a national non-profit organization working to reduce the tragic toll of gun violence in America, through education, research, and legal advocacy. The programs of the Brady Center complement the legislative and grassroots mobilization of its sister organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence with its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters.