By Paul Helmke
On July 10, I will complete my five-year commitment to serve as president of the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. My tenure with Brady will be ending, but I will remain engaged in the movement to reduce gun violence in America. For me, working for a safer America is more than just a job.
I’ve seen way too much gun violence in my life – at the start of high school when a friend got a bullet in his back because those whom he was with wanted to scare him with a gun they thought was unloaded; while mayor of Fort Wayne when the son of a local minister and activist was shot and critically wounded by random gunfire after taking a piano lesson at a community center; the wife of my Labor Relations director who was killed accidentally when a marital dispute and a loaded gun on the head board led to tragedy; and so many other killings during my 12 years as mayor and five years at Brady.
I dedicated myself as a mayor and as an American to do more than mourn the shootings. I believed then and do now that people have a right to live without the fear of being shot because of the easy availability guns and the unreasoned push-back against sensible gun laws by a gun lobby interested only in keeping profits high, no matter the cost to the public.
It isn’t easy going up against a well-funded gun lobby with the resources to scare congressional members into keeping gun laws weak. But Jim and Sarah Brady continue to inspire me to stay in the fight. I first met the Bradys in the 1990s. I joined the couple and other gun violence prevention advocates in urging Congress to make gun locks mandatory, in part, because in Fort Wayne families were grieving over the death of a 3-year-old boy killed when his father accidentally discharged a gun kept loaded in the trunk of his car.
I’ve learned that every step towards gun safety, no matter how seemingly small, can potentially save a life. And despite the personal challenges in their own lives, Jim and Sarah keep stepping up and trying to move the nation forward. Their fearless determination to keep guns away from felons and the dangerously mentally ill – pressing for improvements to the Brady background checks law they fought hard to get passed — demonstrates how individuals can make a difference.
I have seen this power even more so as president of Brady, and I am proud to have been part of the many successes that we’ve achieved over the past five years. Among them was the Brady Campaign’s help in 2007 in passing the NICS Improvement Act which resulted in an additional million records being added to the Brady background check system. As a result, more people who shouldn’t have guns will be denied them.
Through the Brady Campaign’s outreach to the media, to communities hard hit by firearms violence, and victims of gun violence, we’ve heightened awareness of gun violence in America. Working in concert with our state allies and affiliated grassroots organizations, the new awareness has helped us keep guns off college campuses and enact strong gun laws in California, among other successes.
Under my leadership, the Brady organization brought in a younger generation to broaden the fight for sensible gun laws. Virginia Tech shooting survivor Colin Goddard joined our staff last year. He is now featured in documentaries the Brady Campaign helped support and promote – Living for 32 and Gunfight. He’s spent the past eight months traveling across the country speaking to thousands of students and others about making a difference in this fight, and many have enthusiastically joined him and Brady in the cause.
Despite many successes, our work is not done. I will take some time off after helping Brady make the transition to new leadership, but I will never be on the sidelines.
Thank you for your support of my leadership and the Brady Campaign and Brady Center. I hope to hear your voices and see your activism in the coming months and years as we seek to end America’s shameless station as the worldwide leader in gun deaths.