WASHINGTON -- Eighteen years ago today, on November 30, 1993, President Bill Clinton was joined by Jim and Sarah Brady and many others in the White House for the signing of the Brady Law, the landmark legislation that instituted criminal background checks on firearm purchases from federally licensed gun dealers and created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The bill signing in 1993 was an emotional capstone for Jim and Sarah Brady, who fought bravely and tirelessly to pass the Brady law after Jim was severely wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
On February 28, 1994, the law started blocking handgun purchases by felons and other legally prohibited buyers, such as fugitives from justice. For the first five years of the law, authorities had up to 5 business days to complete background checks while the FBI built the computerized system to conduct the checks. On November 30, 1998, the law started blocking long gun, as well as handgun, purchases and the computerized background check system came online.
Through the end of December 2009, the latest year for which data is available, the Brady law had blocked over 1.9 million attempts to purchase a gun by legally prohibited purchasers at gun dealers. Following the law's adoption, murder rates fell nearly 30% – with nearly three-quarters of the drop attributed to a steep decline in gun murders. As President Bill Clinton once said about the Bradys and the Brady Bill, “How many people are alive today because of Jim and Sarah Brady? ...Countless...."
The significance of the Brady Law recently was discussed by the Brady Campaign’s Acting President, Dennis Henigan in a speech at the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas.
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Despite the achievements of the Brady law, more needs to be done to protect Americans from gun violence. U.S. homicide rates are 7 times higher than the combined rates in 22 other western, industrialized countries, despite similar non-lethal crime and violence rates. This higher homicide rate is driven by firearms: the firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 20 times higher than other comparable countries in size and wealth. The human tragedies these numbers represent should give every American pause, regardless of political stripe.
Gaping loopholes remain in our laws. Brady background checks need to be extended to the estimated 40 percent of gun sales that occur without a background check, and we need to make sure that all relevant records are readily accessible to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system. Click here to learn more about the Brady law.