Today is the “anniversary” of the attempt to assassinate President Reagan. As we know, President Reagan survived the shooting and was back at work leading the country within the following month. But it was never the same for James Brady, President Reagan’s press secretary who suffered grievous injuries on March 30, 1981:
Besides Reagan, White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded. All three survived, but Brady suffered brain damage and was permanently disabled; Brady’s death in 2014 was considered a homicide because it was ultimately caused by this injury
His life became that of a survivor with continuing health and physical challenges. He retained his sense of humor and did the best he could to be cheerful. I met Brady once at a lunch for Brady United Against Gun Violence and spoke with him briefly. It was hard to understand him as his speech production was affected by his injuries. It was such an honor to be able to speak with him and meet him for the first time.
Sarah Brady became a force in the effort to get the Brady law eventually passed after 6 tries in 7 years. Because of her tireless and selfless efforts, we are safer now from gun violence. That is what drove her to keep going back to Congress to demand that something be done to stop people, like the man who shot her husband, from getting guns in the first place.
I served with Sarah on the Brady board and came to appreciate her wry humor, her feisty personality and plain spokenness. She was not afraid to speak up, to criticize when she thought something was wrong, to be appreciative when things were done right, and to engage in the important discussions about gun violence prevention. Sarah died in 2015 from cancer.
Since the shooting on March 30, 1981 that left Jim Brady permanently disabled, over one million Americans have died of gunshot injuries.
After the Brady Bill was enacted into law in 1993, a system of instant background checks on gun purchasers was set up by the FBI. The database includes the following:
- “Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
- Is a fugitive from justice;
- Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
- Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
- Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
- Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
- Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
- Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner, or;
- Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.“
These prohibited gun purchaser categories are used by federally licensed firearms dealers to check the status of someone who wants to buy a gun. At the point of purchase, the buyer completes a Form 4473 to complete the purchase.
Because of the passage of the Brady law, over 3 million people seeking to purchase a gun from a licensed firearms dealer have been prohibited from doing so because they fall into one of the above categories. There is no question that Brady background checks have and do save lives.
As of the time of Sarah Brady’s death she was working on, along with many others in the gun violence prevention movement, expanding this system of background checks to all private sellers. What is generally referred to as a loophole in the law allows for private sellers to sell guns to anyone without requiring a background check. This loophole is equivalent to allowing some physicians, some teachers, some public accountants, some other professionals to practice their careers without being checked out to make sure they are not a felon, a domestic abuser, an illegal drug user, etc. That is the way it should be.
Especially now with the coronavirus outbreak, we certainly want patients to be treated by licensed professionals. And especially now when the Health and Human Services Department has deemed that gunshops are essential businesses with a surge in gun sales, we should want all gun sales to have a background check. These are stressful, dangerous and perilous times in the history of our country. There is a lot of fear and misinformation floating around as well as anxiety, depression and anger. When President Trump pronounced on Saturday that we was concerned about the potential for suicides, he forgot to mention that he had not shut down gun shops to make the means for suicide less likely. Whether he is right or wrong doesn’t it make common sense to stop one of the most efficient methods of suicide by shutting down gun shops? Suicide by gun accounts for at least half of all suicides; suicide by gun accounts for the majority of our gun deaths.
Something does not make sense with passing a law that made so much common sense and then letting some gun sales go without the checks that save lives. Something does not make sense in letting people who could be dangerous to themselves or others to buy a gun from a private seller without making sure that person can be responsible and safe. Something does not make sense that in this time of uncertainty, some counties across our states are declaring themselves second amendment sanctuaries to law enforcement ostensibly will not have to enact laws already on the books or new laws passed in many states to save lives.
Some things do not make sense. The shooting of Jim Brady did not make sense. My sister’s shooting did not make sense. The mass shootings at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, El Paso, Virginia Beach, Red Lake, Parkland, and all of the others so frequently occurring in our country don’t make any sense. Something does not make sense about stockpiling guns in this time of uncertainty. Something does not make sense about a public health epidemic out of control not receiving the attention it deserved and deserves.
But in this time of another public health pandemic, most things are shut down and on hold, including actions in Congress and state legislatures to deal with gun violence prevention. We will not forget. We will keep working on keeping Americans safe long after the current epidemic slows. A piece written by Jonathan Lowy from the Brady Center explains why this is so crucial:
The risks are great that guns will be stored unsafely and accessible to children and others who should not have access to them. And your semiautomatic can’t fend off the coronavirus, no matter how large your ammunition magazine is.
But there is an even more fundamental problem that may be at play with at least some of the binge-buying of guns. Some have a sense, it appears, that society may break down under the weight of this pandemic, and Americans will end up fighting each other for supplies, or food, or to maintain safety.
In this post-apocalyptic Hobbesian state, guns will be needed. This is the same worldview that the National Rifle Association has been stoking for decades to fuel the notion that a gun is necessary for self-protection, evidenced by an inflammatory tweet last week. Some will even add, that is what the Framers intended when they wrote the Second Amendment into our Constitution. (…) And when we come out of this coronavirus, we must recommit to repairing the breaches of our society and establishing a caring community in which Americans recognize we are in this together, as a nation and, indeed, a world. Stockpiling firearms is not the answer and is contradictory to the very notions of government and society upon which our nation was founded.
Lowy is so right. We will come out of this on the other side. Many hundreds of thousands will have died or been changed forever by this time in our history. It would be an added tragedy to add gun avoidable and senseless deaths to coronavirus deaths.
The toll will be more than we can imagine right now. The toll of gun deaths has been more than we can fathom for decades. The bell tolls for the hundreds of thousands who will die or be affected.
Please be safe and healthy. These are difficult times. Having a gun in the home right now can make households and families less safe. If you own a gun please store it securely and unloaded. Please don’t let children or teens get their hands on a gun right now or ever. End Family Fire is working on awareness of the risks of guns in homes.
Sarah Brady knew the risks of guns owned by those who shouldn’t have them. I know the risks of guns in homes with domestic and marital strife. Too many parents have found out the hard way about the risks of guns to children who accessed them in curious moments. Too many families have found that a suicide by gun has forever changed their lives. Too many mass shootings have proven why we need to continue this national discussion about gun violence.