Skip to main content

Congress, finish the job on Brady background checks

By Sarah Brady
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
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
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT