Brady Bill signed into law

Brady Bill signed into law

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During a White House ceremony attended by James S. Brady, President Bill Clinton signs the Brady handgun-control bill into law. The law requires a prospective handgun buyer to wait five business days while the authorities check on his or her background, during which time the sale is approved or prohibited based on an established set of criteria.

In 1981, James Brady, who served as press secretary for President Ronald Reagan, was shot in the head by John Hinckley, Jr., during an attempt on President Reagan’s life outside a hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan himself was shot in his left lung but recovered and returned to the White House within two weeks. Brady, the most seriously injured in the attack, was momentarily pronounced dead at the hospital but survived and began an impressive recovery from his debilitating brain injury.

During the 1980s, Brady became a leading proponent of gun-control legislation and in 1987 succeeded in getting a bill introduced into Congress. The Brady Bill, as it became known, was opposed by many congressmen, who, in reference to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, questioned the constitutionality of regulating the ownership of arms. In 1993, with the support of President Bill Clinton, an advocate of gun control, the Brady Bill became law.

Bill Clinton's Costly Assault Weapons Ban

Patrick Griffin, his chief congressional affairs lobbyist, recalls the lead up to the bill’s passage in 1994—and the steep political price that followed.

For those who question whether anything will ever be done to curb the use of military grade weaponry for mass shootings in the United States, history provides some good news—and some bad. The good news is that there is, within the recent past, an example of a president—namely Bill Clinton—who successfully wielded the powers of the White House to institute a partial ban of assault weapons from the nation’s streets. The bad news, however, is that Clinton’s victory proved to be so costly to him and to his party that it stands as an enduring cautionary tale in Washington about the political dangers of taking on the issue of gun control.

About Brady

In getting the bipartisan Brady Law passed in 1993, Jim and Sarah Brady accomplished the inconceivable. But there’s more work to be done — and only when we work together will we solve this problem. In order to do that work, we must accept these three truths about America’s gun violence epidemic: 1) Gun ownership demands responsibility 2) Those empowered to do so must uphold existing gun laws and 3) Gun violence is a uniquely American problem that impacts all races and ethnicities in the country, but nonetheless exacts a particular toll on Black and Brown communities.

A problem with so many root causes, requires us to address it from all angles. Brady therefore emphasizes education, litigation, and legislation to ensure that every community is safe, not only from mass shootings, but also from the daily toll of gun homicide, domestic violence, suicide, unintentional shootings, and police violence that plagues so many communities.

It’s time we unite people of all races and ethnicities from coast to coast, progressive and conservative, young and old, fed up and fired up, to work with us and end what is taking so many lives. It's in our hands.

Not all votes are meant to pass legislation. In the Senate some votes are not about legislation at all, since the Senate must vote to confirm presidential nominations to certain federal positions.

This vote is related to a bill. However, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it is about. Congress makes many decisions in the process of passing legislation, such as on the procedures for debating the bill, whether to change the bill before voting on passage, and even whether to vote on passage at all.

You can learn more about the various motions used in Congress at If you aren’t sure what the Senate was voting on, try seeing if it’s on this list.

Take a look at where this bill is in the legislative process. What might come next? Keep in mind what this specific vote was on, and the context of the bill. Will there be amendments? Will the other chamber of Congress vote on it, or let it die?

For this question it may help to briefly examine the bill itself.

It’s been 20 years since the Brady bill passed. Here are 11 ways gun politics have changed.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which went into effect in 1994. The law -- named after James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 -- made background checks a requirement for gun purchases from licensed dealers. From the law's passage until 2009 -- the latest year statistics are available -- over 107 million Brady-mandated background checks were conducted.

Gun politics have also changed since the passage of the Brady bill. Here are a few notable examples.

1. When gun policy gets passed, it's usually about loosening gun restrictions, not tightening them.

The New York Times did a study in December 2013 analyzing gun policy since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School the previous year, a year when 71 other children were killed by gun violence. Around the country, 1,500 state gun bills were proposed, 109 became law, and 70 of those new laws loosened existing gun legislation. According to a Gallup poll from January 30, 2014, 55 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with existing gun policy.

2. 242 members of the House had an "A rating" from the National Rifle Association in December 2012.

3. In 2013, a plan to expand background checks failed.

Fifty-four senators were for it, 46 were against -- and it couldn't pass without a 60-vote threshold. Only 56 senators voted yes on the Brady bill. The background checks bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), would have required checks on all commercial gun sales, and was a part of the big federal push on gun violence policy after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The president did sign 25 executive actions related to gun-violence prevention in 2013, however.

4. In 1998, gun violence was seen as the most pressing issue in the country, according to a Gallup survey.

In October 2013, 1 percent of respondents saw violence and crime as the most pressing issue in the country.

5. Opinions of the National Rifle Association are about the same as they were 20 years ago.

In a 1993 Gallup survey, 55 percent of the country had a favorable opinion of the NRA. At the end of 2012, 54 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of them.

6. In the 1993-1994 election cycle, the NRA spent $2.3 million.

In the 2011-2012 election cycle, they spent $24.8 million.

7. New gun-control groups are starting to spend big money, too.

Gabby Giffords, who was shot at a constituent meeting in Arizona in 2011, started Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun-control focused 501(c)4. The group raised nearly $12.5 million this year. Michael Bloomberg started Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2006. The organization has spent nearly $2 million lobbying since its formation. According to the National Journal, "gun-control groups spent five times as much on federal lobbying in 2013 as they did the year before, but the NRA and others still outpaced them by more than 7-to-1."

8. In 1993, 34 percent of Americans thought it was more important to protect the right to own guns than control gun ownership.

Pew Research Center, December 2013

In 2013, 48 percent of Americans thought that.

9. Firearm homicides reached a peak of 17,075 in 1993.

In 2011, about 9,900 people were murdered by guns, according to FBI data. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 18,253 gun homicides happened in 1993, while 11,078 gun murders occurred in 2010.

Typical Reasons for Denial of Gun Purchases

During the first seven months in which Brady Act gun buyer background checks were performed, the reasons for denial of gun purchases broke down as follows:

  • 76 percent - Criminal history of a felony
  • 8 percent - Criminal history of domestic violence
  • 6 percent - Criminal history of other offenses (multiple DUIs, non-NCIC warrants, etc.)
  • 3 percent - Criminal history of drug abuse
  • 3 percent - Domestic violence restraining orders

Urge Congress to Expand and Strengthen Background Checks!

In honor of Jim and Sarah Brady, sign our petition urging Congress to strengthen and expand Brady Background Checks!

Decades after Jim and Sarah Brady led the movement, background checks on gun sales are more popular in America than nearly any policy measure being debated today. A 2018 Quinnipiac poll showed that an astounding 97 percent of Americans support a background check for every gun sale — including 97 percent of gun-owning households. A 2012 survey by GOP pollster Frank Luntz found that even 74 percent of NRA members support this common-sense reform.

When the gun lobby lost and America won: 25 years later, the Brady Bill is a case study in courage and common sense

No issue has become a larger symptom of American political paralysis than guns. A total of 96 Americans die by firearms each day and from Las Vegas, Parkland, Pittsburgh, and Thousand Oaks to the ongoing shootings across the country, gun violence repeatedly shocks the nation’s conscience — and so does Washington’s stubborn refusal to act. The impassioned students from Parkland speak for an entire generation that has never seen anything happen on guns except an endless cycle of shots, thoughts, and prayers.

Today’s interminable rut of gun politics is all the more reason to commemorate the Brady Bill, which Bill Clinton signed into law 25 years ago this week. Few laws have represented a clearer triumph of courage over gridlock or proved so successful at preventing crime and saving lives.

When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, the prospect of passing gun safety legislation was every bit the uphill battle it is now. In October 1993, a record 51% of Americans told Gallup they had a gun in their home. Today that number is 43%. Back then, the National Rifle Association’s approval rating was 22 points higher than disapproval. In the years since, the NRA’s net approval has been cut in half.

Then as now, a quarter century had gone by since Washington had last strengthened the nation’s gun laws. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy spurred Congress to pass the Gun Control Act of 1968 banning felons from buying guns and making gun dealers obtain a federal license. But the National Rifle Association soon learned to intimidate Congress by mobilizing gun owners against any member who dared support a gun bill. In 1986, the NRA pushed through the Firearm Owners Protection Act to ease gun sales and limit federal enforcement.

The NRA’s next target was the Brady Bill, introduced in 1987 to require background checks for the purchase of firearms. James Brady, President Reagan’s press secretary, had been wounded in the attempt on Reagan’s life by John Hinckley, who had purchased a “Saturday night special” at a Texas pawn shop while under psychiatric care. Despite the tireless efforts of Brady’s wife, Sarah, and the eventual support of Ronald Reagan, the bill stalled repeatedly in the late ’80s and early ’90s. With the nation’s capital mired in gridlock, Brady Bill supporters wondered whether Washington would ever muster the gumption to defeat the NRA.

Bill Clinton was a New Democrat from a southern state no Democratic presidential nominee has carried since. “Half the folks had hunting and fishing licenses,” he liked to point out. “We still close schools and plants on the first day of deer season. Nobody is going to show up anyway.” But twice as governor, he vetoed NRA-backed legislation that would have preempted Arkansas cities from enacting stricter gun laws than the state. He was determined not to let the NRA hold Washington hostage, either.

The Brady Bill had other fierce champions willing to take on the gun lobby, including Ohio Rep. Ed Feighan, its first sponsor New York Rep. Chuck Schumer Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum and Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden, who ushered the bill through conference and broke an NRA-backed filibuster to win final passage in November 1993. In the end, the bill had the support of a third of Republicans in Congress.

Today, no tragedy seems capable of moving Congress to pass a gun safety bill. Yet the Brady Bill is proof of the difference gun laws can make. Since 1993, the Brady Bill has stopped more than three million felons, fugitives, and other prohibited purchasers from buying guns. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has conducted 300 million background checks since the FBI launched it 20 years ago this month.

Together with other efforts to reduce violent crime, the Brady Bill has helped cut America’s gun homicide rate nearly in half. In 1993, seven of every 100,000 Americans were the victims of gun homicide. Since 2000, the rate has averaged about four of every 100,000. That means roughly 10,000 fewer Americans are shot to death every year.

James Brady died in 2014, followed by Sarah Brady a year later, but their legacy lives on. Beyond a history lesson, the Brady Bill is a blueprint for gun safety in the future. The next step is to expand the law to require background checks for all gun purchases, not just sales by licensed dealers. Parents, police, Parkland students, and 96% of Americans support making background checks universal.

When he signed the law, President Clinton offered it as proof of what we can accomplish if we stop “trying to make the American people afraid that somehow their quality of life is going to be undermined by doing stuff that people of common sense and good will would clearly want to do with every law enforcement official in America telling us to do it.” The Brady Bill’s success is a case study in courage, good will, and common sense. As Clinton said then, “We cannot stop here.”

Bruce Reed is CEO and Founder of Civic, a bipartisan policy ideas company. He also serves as Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative. Reed served for more than a decade as a top White House policy adviser under Presidents Clinton and Obama. As President Clinton’s chief domestic policy adviser, he oversaw a host of domestic and social priorities, including crime, education, and welfare reform. In the Obama administration he served as Executive Director of the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction commission and Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden.

Reed also served as the first president of the Broad Foundation and as CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council. He began his career as chief speechwriter for Sen. Al Gore, DLC policy director for Gov. Bill Clinton, and deputy campaign manager for policy of the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign. He has been a contributor to Slate, The Atlantic, and The New Republic and co-authored The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America with Rahm Emanuel. He is a native of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and graduated from Princeton and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

The "Boyfriend Loophole"

Third, we need to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” The "boyfriend loophole" refers to the fact that federal law only considers individuals who were at one time married to, have a child with, or are a parent/guardian of a victim, as domestic abusers prohibited from buying a firearm. Meanwhile, unmarried partners and stalkers aren’t considered prohibited persons under the law. Yet, there's a 500 percent increase in the likelihood of homicide if a gun is available during a domestic abuse situation.

Predictably, the "boyfriend loophole" has deadly costs. Roughly every 16 hours, a woman is shot and killed by a current or former intimate partner. In 2018 alone, there were 653 gun-related domestic violence fatalities in the United States. We're calling on Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 (VAWA) to close the deadly "boyfriend loophole" to help keep guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers and stalkers.