Friday marks the 20th anniversary of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named for James Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan and one of four men shot during John Hinckley Jr.’s attempt to assassinate the president in 1981. After the shooting, Mr. Brady and his wife, Sarah, became compelling advocates on the gun-control side of the Second Amendment debate, establishing the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
The Brady Bill, as it’s known, was a major achievement. It requires federally licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on all gun buyers. According to the Brady Campaign, the law has stopped more than 2.1 million gun sales to people prohibited from owning weapons, including convicted felons, domestic abusers and fugitives.
The attempt on the president’s life put some backbone in Congress to pass the background-check rule, but it took 13 long years after Mr. Brady was gravely wounded before even that much progress was made.
The Brady Bill — signed into law by President Clinton in late 1993 — was approved long before the Internet became ubiquitous. The group estimates that today around 40 percent of guns are obtained without background checks from unlicensed sellers at gun shows or Internet sites.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, where deranged Adam Lanza left 20 children and six adults dead before killing himself, Congress was urged to expand background checks to all gun buyers, period. But in 2013, the U.S. Senate couldn’t muster the votes. So much for congressional backbone. It’s obvious that keeping the NRA happy trumps 20 children shot to death any day.
But lawmakers in some states were appalled enough by Sandy Hook that they strengthened state laws to keep firearms from falling into the wrong hands. Four states now require background checks on all gun buyers. Lamentably — and no surprise — Florida isn’t among them.
The shootings by young Adam Lanza inside Sandy Hook are the second-deadliest mass shooting after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, where student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 more.
Would background checks have prevented either massacre? Adam Lanza’s mother, whom he also killed, was a gun fancier and had numerous weapons and ammunition, which she shared with him. Seung-Hui Cho had a history of mental disorders and had shown increasing tendencies toward violence for two years preceding the shootings. A follow-up investigation by Virginia officials found that gaps in the state’s mental-health and gun laws enabled his murderous deed.
Expanding background checks on all sales of firearms won’t deny guns to every would-be mass shooter, but it might prevent a future shooting so shocking that even Congress will have to act. The Brady group says that nine in 10 Americans support requiring background checks on commercial and advertised gun sales. Of course, they do. While many Americans love their guns, they also love their families and want to keep them from harm, which is getting harder to do with the proliferation of firearms in this country.
Americans should salute Jim and Sarah Brady for their work to prevent gun violence. Congress should do likewise and approve expanded background checks in their honor.