In memory of Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady
This photo is from the Brady Campaign.

America lost a treasure yesterday with the death of Sarah Brady. She was a courageous woman who was tough and persistent while at the same time caring and a true friend to those who knew her. From this article:

“In the history of our nation, there are few people, if any, who are directly responsible for saving as many lives as Sarah and Jim,” Brady Campaign and Center President Dan Gross said in a statement.

Brady became a gun control activist after her husband, White House press secretary James Brady, was shot in the head during an assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

James Brady died in August of last year.

The Brady Campaign says the legislation Sarah Brady championed after James Brady’s shooting has prevented the sale of more than 2.4 million firearms “to criminals and other dangerous people.”

At the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago, Sarah Brady was invited to speak because in the preceding term President Bill Clinton had signed the Brady bill. Brady called that moment “the proudest moment of our lives,” but she also called for continued work on gun control.

“This battle is not about guns; it’s about families, it’s about children, it’s about our future,” Brady said. “You can’t have stronger families without safer children. The gun lobby likes to say that Jim and I are trying to take guns away from hunters and sportsmen. The gun lobby is wrong. To the hunters and sportsmen of America we say, keep your guns. But just give us the laws that we need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and out of the hands of children.”

Her advice to those who knew her was that we should never give up. She and her husband Jim who died last year after living with the consequences of his shooting in 1981, never gave up in their fight to get the Brady Law enacted. Because of their efforts, lives have been saved. There is no question that stopping people who shouldn’t have guns at one of the points of sale will also make it harder for those people to get guns to use in crime and shootings. Since the law was enacted about 2 million gun sales have been stopped when prohibited people have attempted to buy guns at federally licensed gun dealers.

But we have not yet finished the job started by Sarah and Jim Brady. Until we require background checks for all gun sales, we will be allowing felons, domestic abusers and adjudicated mentally ill people (and others) to legally purchase guns they should not have. There are markets for guns through private sellers at gun shows, on the Internet and other venues who don’t require background checks on buyers. The American public knows this and agrees that background checks on all guns sales are a very good idea for public safety. Sarah understood this well and worked until the end of her life on efforts to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales.

Sarah was not afraid of the gun lobby. Gun violence prevention advocates are not afraid of the gun lobby. It’s our elected leaders who are so afraid of the corporate gun lobby that they give in to their false claims that background checks on all gun sales will only affect law abiding citizens and inevitably lead to gun registration. In the 20 years that Brady background checks have been in existence there has been no gun registration. But never mind the facts.

This is backwards logic but the gun lobby gets away with this talking point with our leaders. Not so with the public who can understand that if you are a legal buyer, a background check won’t affect you. Legal buyers go through background checks every day to purchase guns from licensed gun dealers and are barely inconvenienced as a result. It will be those who should not have guns who will suffer from the inconvenience of being turned away by a seller. And that inconvenience may just stop a shooting. The inconvenience of burying a loved one after a shooting is an actual inconvenience. The other one is fabricated by a group whose getting their way means profit, power and influence.

Sarah and Jim Brady knew that inconvenience well. Their life changed in the instant the bullet hit Jim’s head in 1981. An armed man who shouldn’t have had a gun shot that bullet that killed one and injured not only Brady but President Reagan. This happened in spite of armed security and police at the scene lending the lie to the NRA’s ridiculous statement that only good guys can stop bad guys with guns.

Jim Brady lived with the paralysis and other problems that come from a head injury from a bullet. Bullets do serious damage to body tissue and organs. Jim Brady’s sense of humor, though, was not lost in the shooting but as his life progressed, it was difficult to understand his speech. He, along with Sarah, were relentless in their cause to keep guns away from those who shouldn’t have them. Sarah was his loving partner and his legs in her visits to the U.S. Capitol to get the Brady law passed.

After the Million Mom March in 2000, Sarah Brady recognized the value of grassroots organizing and advocates in states all over America. The Million Mom March merged with Handgun Control, Inc. in 2001 to form the now Brady Campaign/Center and Sarah continued working with chapter members all over the country on gun violence prevention measures. In the 15th year of the Million Mom March, chapter leaders and members will not only continue the work begun by Sarah and Jim Brady but will renew our efforts to change the conversation about guns and expand Brady background checks. In Sarah’s memory, we are energized to get the job done.

I had opportunities to work with Sarah and knew of her intellect and her well thought out remarks about gun violence prevention. She was wise and listened well. She was also feisty and fought for what was right if she thought someone was doing the wrong thing. Sarah was also charming and opened up her life to other advocates, making them her friends immediately.

Sarah Brady will be missed by many. Her dreams of finishing the job will not die because she did. Those of us who knew her and those who didn’t will continue in our efforts on her behalf and in her memory. Sarah knew what common sense was all about. To her it meant that gun laws can co-exist with gun ownership and gun rights. In fact, she and Jim came at the issue from the side of protecting their young son from a gun to which he was accidentally exposed by a friend. She grew up in a home with guns but when her young son found a gun in the truck of a friend, she realized that something had to change. She knew that gun safety reform was about children and families.

Here is the official statement from the Brady Campaign about Sarah Brady’s death:

“All of us at the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence are heartbroken over the passing of Sarah Brady. Together with her husband Jim ‘Bear’ Brady, Sarah was the heart and soul of this organization and the successful movement it has become today. In the history of our nation, there are few people, if any, who are directly responsible for saving as many lives as Sarah and Jim. There are countless people walking around today who would not be were it not for Sarah Brady’s remarkable resilience, compassion and – what she always said she enjoyed the most – her hard work in the trenches with this organization, which she continued right up to the very end.

“Sarah and Jim are responsible for the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (the ‘Brady Law’) which has prevented more than 2.4 million sales of firearms to criminals and other dangerous people and remains, by far, the most significant achievement in the history of the gun violence prevention movement. Our nation has lost a great hero, and I have lost a dear friend. I am certain that she would want nothing more than to know we are carrying on her and Jim’s legacy with the same fiery compassion and dedication that made her so remarkable.”

The Brady Campaign/Center are named for Jim Brady and will continue to work in their name to keep our communities safe from gun violence and to change the conversation about the risks of guns. We mourn the loss of a great woman who has left behind an amazing legacy for the rest of us. She was a mentor and role model to many and we loved her for her kindness but also her fierce advocacy.