The Brady Bill Essay

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The Brady Bill

The Brady Bill

Introduction
The legislative process in the United States Congress shows us an
interesting drama in which a bill becomes a law through compromises made by
diverse and sometimes conflicting interests in this country. There have been
many controversial bills passed by Congress, but among all, I have taken a
particular interest in the passage of the Brady bill. When the Brady debate was
in full swing in Congress about three years ago, I was still back in my country,
Japan, where the possession of guns is strictly restricted by laws. While
watching television news reports on the Brady debate, I wondered what was making
it so hard for this gun control bill to pass in this gun violence ridden
country. In this paper, I will trace the bill's seven year history in Congress,
which I hope will reveal how partisan politics played a crucial role in the
Brady bill's passage in this policy making branch.
The Brady bill took its name from Jim Brady, the former press secretary
of President Reagan, who was shot in the head and partially paralyzed in the
assassination attempt on the president in 1981. This bill was about a waiting
period on handgun purchases allowing police to check the backgrounds of the
prospective buyers to make sure that guns are not sold to convicted felons or to
those who are mentally unstable. Even the proponents of the bill agreed that
the effect of the bill on curbing the gun violence might be minimal considering
the fact that the majority of guns used for criminal purposes were purchased
through illegal dealers. However, the Brady Bill represented the first major
gun control legislation passed by Congress for more than 20 years, and it meant
a significant victory for gun control advocates in their way toward even
stricter gun control legislation in the future.

Gun Rights vs. Gun Control
The Brady bill, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, was first
introduced by Edward F. Feighan (D-OH) in the House of the100th Congress as
HR975 on February 4, 1987. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee,
and the debate began. Throughout the debate on the Brady bill, there was always
a clear partisan split; most of the Democrats, except for those from the
Southern states, supported the bill while most of the Republicans were in the
opposition. For example, when the first introduced Brady bill lost to an
amendment by Bill McCollum (R-FL) for a study of an instant check system (228-
182), most Republicans voted for the McCollum amendment (127 for and 45 against)
while the majority of the Democrats voted against it (127 for and 137 against).
The exception was the Southern Democrats most of whom joined the Republicans to
vote for the amendment. This party division was not so surprising, however,
considering the huge campaign contributions made by the chief gun lobby, the
National Rifle Association (NRA), directed mostly to the Republicans, and the
exception of the Southern Democrats could be explained by the gun right
supportive nature of their constituents. In the 1992 election for example, this
organization made $1.7 million contribution to its sympathetic congressional
candidates and spent another $870,000 in independent expenditures for
congressional races.1 The influence the NRA exercised on the legislation was
enormous since the final bill passed in 1993 was a compromise version reflecting
some of the NRA-sought provisions. I could say that it was because of this
persistent lobby that the Brady bill took as long as 7 years to become a law.
On the other side, the advocates of the bill enjoyed a wide support from
the public as well as from the Handgun Control Inc., the chief gun control lobby
led by Sarah Brady, the wife of James Brady. The consistent public support for
the bill from the introduction through the passage of the bill was manifested by
many polls. One of the polls conducted by NBC News and Wall Street Journal on
the enactment of the bill said that 74 percent of the 1,002 respondents agreed
that "the law is good but more is needed."2 It is without question that this
public support played a significant role in the eventual passage of the bill.
The Brady bill passed the House in the 102nd Congress
After almost four years from its first introduction to the Congress, the
Brady bill was reintroduced to the House in the 102nd Congress as HR 7 on
January 3, 1991, sponsored by 76 representatives including Feighan, William J
Hughes (D-NJ), and Charles Schumer (D-NY). The bill was referred to the
Judiciary Committee, and the hearings began in the Judiciary Subcommittee on
Crime on March 21, 1991. As written, this bill required a seven-day waiting
period on the handgun purchases. Schumer, the chairman as well as the chief
sponsor of the bill, explained before the Subcommittee that the Brady bill "has
a very simple purpose: to keep lethal handguns out of the hands of people who
shouldn't have them.3" Aside from the firm support from the public, the bill
also gained the backing from the former president Reagan who, in a tribute to
James Brady, said that it is "just plain common sense that there be a waiting
period to allow local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on
those who wish to buy a handgun."4 This Reagan's remark was significant since
he had long been a member of the NRA.
On April 10, the Subcommittee approved to send the bill to the Judiciary
Committee by the vote of 9-4. The votes were clearly divided along the party
line with the sole exception of F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), one of the
few GOP supporters of the bill, who joined the Democrats to vote for it. In the
meantime, the lobbying by both sides had intensified. The NRA claimed that the
bill went against the principle of the Constitution, pointing out the Second
Amendment which says: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security
of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be
infringed." They argued that it was not the guns but the people who committed
crimes, saying that tougher sentences for the criminals would work better than
the waiting period in reducing crimes. On the other hand, James Brady was
lobbying intensely in his wheelchair supported by his-wife-led Handgun Control
Inc., which had an emotional appeal to other members of Congress.
In the Judiciary Committee, Harley O. Staggers Jr. (D-WV), pushed by the
NRA, proposed a substitute bill (HR 1412) which would require states to set up
an instant check system so that gun dealers could find out immediately on a
telephone call whether the purchaser had a criminal record without any wait.
The Staggers' alternative, however, reminded many of the McCollum amendment that
wrecked the Brady bill in 1988. With the acknowledgment of the Attorney General,
Dick Thornburgh, that the practical use of such instant check system would be
years away,5 the Staggers' substitute was rejected by the Committee by the vote
of 11-23. The committee then proceeded to vote on the Brady bill (HR 7),
approving it by the 23-11 vote. On May 8, the Staggers' amendment was rejected
again (193-234) on the floor. The House went on to approve the seven-day
waiting period Brady bill by the vote of 239-186, placing it on the Senate
calendar on June 3.

Debate in the Senate
In the Senate, the proponents of the Brady bill, including the Majority
Leader George J. Mitchell (D-ME), were working hard to keep the Brady language
part of the omnibus crime legislation (S-1241) which had already been passed by
the House-Senate conference committee. Ted Stevens (R-AK) proposed an amendment
to replace the waiting period with an instant-check system. This amendment was
very much similar to the Staggers' proposal made in the House, ensuring that the
potential buyers who were eligible for the purchase would not have to wait to
buy a gun. Stevens and other GOP opponents argued that the waiting period would
not reduce the crime rate since it would not affect the majority of criminals
who could purchase guns illegally while affecting the law-abiding citizens'
Second Amendment right to purchase a gun for sports and hunting purposes. In
response to this argument, Mitchell and his other pro-Brady Democrats maintained
that developing a software for a national instant background check system would
take years, and even if it was available, instant checks would not work as a
deterrent to hot-blooded crimes by those without criminal records. Mitchell
called the Stevens' plan "a transparent effort to eliminate the waiting
period,"6 saying that it was just a pretense to the public to endorse gun
control while actually blocking it.
On June 28, the Senate rejected the Stevens' amendment by the vote of
44-54 with all but nine Democrats, all from Southern or rural states, voting
against it. The 54 votes, however, were not enough for the Brady advocates
since they would need 6 more votes to stop a possible GOP filibuster. On the
other hand, filibustering was not the best solution for the GOP opponents
neither, since in doing so, they would have to sacrifice the crime bill they
wanted.
Resulting from this situation was a compromise by Mitchell, Metzenbaum,
and the GOP leader Bob Dole (R-KS). In this compromise, the length of the
waiting period was changed from seven days to five business days, and a new
provision was added which would end the waiting period in two and a half years
upon the Attorney General's confirmation that the instant check system met
certain standards. Nevertheless, it was the six votes that determined the fate
of the Brady bill in the 102nd Congress. The Senate failed to take final action
before the end of the 1991 congressional session, and even with the passage in
the House, the Brady bill still had to wait two more years for its final passage.


In the 103rd Congress (House)
In 1993, the year in which the Brady bill got enacted, there was a
growing national tide favoring stricter gun control. The Brady proponents were
upbeat with an expectation that the long-debated bill would finally pass that
year. The surge in the public support was promising; a CNN/USA Today/Gallup
Poll conducted during March 12 through 14 showed that 88 percent of their 1,007
respondents favored the bill.7 The gun control advocates also had two
significant victories in two States; in Virginia, a legislation was passed
restricting handgun purchases to one gun purchase per month, and in New Jersey,
the NRA and other gun rights advocates lost in their effort to repeal the
state's ban on selling assault rifles. Furthermore, the 103rd Congress had a
pro-Brady president. In contrast to Bush, a longtime NRA member, President
Clinton openly expressed his support for the bill; in his speech to Congress on
February 17, he said: "If you pass the Brady bill, I'll sure sign it." Facing
this nationwide pro-Brady tide, Even the NRA showed a slight change in its
language; James Jay Baker, the top NRA lobbyist, said that his organization
might be able to approve certain version of the bill.8
In this favorable atmosphere, the Brady bill was introduced in the103rd
Congress in the House as HR 1025 on February 22, 1993 by Schumer and 98 other
cosponsors, referred to the Judiciary Committee. The chairman of the Committee,
Jack Brooks (D-TX) agreed to keep the bill separate from his other overall crime
legislation (HR 3131), encouraging the Brady supporters with a hope to pass the
bill before the scheduled Thanksgiving adjournment. By the direction of the
Rules Committee, the House voted on the House Resolution 302, a rule providing
for the floor consideration of the Brady bill, approving it by the vote of 238-
182. As written, the bill provided for a five-day waiting period upon handgun
purchases as well as the establishment of a national instant criminal background
check system. The bill also had a provision requiring that the waiting period
phase out upon the Attorney General's approval of the viability of the
nationwide instant check. The bill by then already represented a compromise
between the Brady waiting period and the NRA instant check.
On the floor, the GOP opponents proposed a series of amendments. George
W. Gekas (R-PA) offered an amendment ending the waiting period after five years
from its enforcement regardless of the viability of the replacing instant check
system. Schumer argued that the Gekas' so-called sunset provision was an
unrealistic deadline, pointing out the varying criminal record keeping of each
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