Skip to main content

Congress, finish the job on Brady background checks

By Sarah Brady
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
James Brady, a former White House press secretary who became a prominent gun-control advocate after he was wounded in the 1981 attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life, died Monday, August 4. He was 73. James Brady, a former White House press secretary who became a prominent gun-control advocate after he was wounded in the 1981 attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life, died Monday, August 4. He was 73.
HIDE CAPTION
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
Gun-control advocate James Brady
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act" went into effect 20 years ago
  • Sarah Brady: The law, which honors her husband, requires background checks
  • But a lot has changed, about 40% of gun sales today have no Brady background check
  • Brady: Congress needs to finish the job the Brady law so effectively started in 1981

Editor's note: Former White House press secretary James Brady, who became an advocate for gun control after he was shot in 1981, died Monday at age 73. His wife, Sarah Brady, told the story of her husband's impact on the gun control debate in this opinion piece earlier this year. Sarah Brady is chairwoman of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization that aims to reduce the number of gun deaths and injuries. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- When the "Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act" went into effect 20 years ago this month, America took a historic stand against gun violence. It was the first federal law to require that licensed dealers refer every gun sale to law enforcement for a background check.

The law honored my husband, Jim Brady, who had been shot in the head in 1981 by John Hinckley Jr, a mentally ill man who attempted to assassinate President Reagan. The shooting left Jim permanently impaired physically and cognitively.

Since February 28, 1994, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, background checks have stopped more than 2 million gun purchases by "prohibited purchasers" like convicted felons, domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill and fugitives—people who we all agree should not have guns. It's easy to imagine how many lives were saved and how many disabling injuries prevented thanks to Brady background checks.

But a lot has changed over the past two decades, and people who wouldn't pass a background check have found other ways to procure guns easily through unlicensed sales at gun shows or on the Internet, where background checks are not required.

Opinion: The man who made people talk about guns

Sarah Brady with her husband, Jim
Sarah Brady with her husband, Jim

The corporate gun lobby would like us to think these unlicensed sales are transactions between family members and hunting buddies, but the truth is that thousands of guns are sold legally each day without a background check, thereby potentially putting guns directly in the hands of criminals.

In fact, websites like Armslist.com boast upward of 70,000 listings from private sellers, many touting "No background check" as a selling feature. As a result, an estimated 40% of gun sales today occur without a Brady background check. Many of these sales have deadly consequences.

Take Zina Daniel, a victim of domestic violence who procured a restraining order against her estranged husband, making him unable to pass a background check. He bought a semiautomatic handgun from a private seller online, where he didn't need a background check. He used that gun to kill Zina and two others and wound four more at a nail salon.

Sarah Brady: We must act on gun violence
Governors sound off on guns
Sen. still hopeful to pass gun control

Let's think about background checks in another way. Imagine if Zina's husband were on the no fly list and was one of 40% of airline passengers the Transportation Security Administration allowed to fly without undergoing a security screening. Would Americans feel safe in the air in this scenario? Not likely. Yet that is precisely the percentage of gun purchases made daily without a background check.

Opinion: The warrior, the hero, the 'Bear'

So what's the solution? Congress needs to finish the job the Brady law so effectively started to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of people who should not have them.

Congress must pick up where it left off last April when, to Jim's and my great disappointment, Senate legislation to expand Brady background checks fell short. The bill received a majority 54 votes, including the support of six "A-rated" National Rifle Association senators, two of whom were the lead sponsors. The American people support this legislation.

In fact, 90% of Americans support universal background checks covering all online sales and gun shows. Three out of four NRA members and 80% of gun owners agree that the scope of background checks needs to be expanded.

In 2013, after the horrific tragedy of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, eight states passed meaningful gun regulations. These laws could save lives and prevent injuries. Let's keep moving forward. Let's finish the job, expand Brady background checks and help keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT