Brady Group Against Guns Essay

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The following article appeared on the editorial page of the Charlotte Observer on Aug. 15.

Has the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act reduced the number of people who are killed by gunfire in America? Our recent study, published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that the answer to this question is not as simple as either the opponents or advocates of gun control would like.

The "Brady Act," which went into effect in early 1994, required licensed gun dealers and law enforcement in 32 states to conduct background checks for handgun purchases, and to allow waiting periods of up to five business days for the transfer of these weapons. The remaining 18 states plus the District of Columbia already had sufficiently stringent regulations in place and were granted exemptions from the new requirements.

Public discussions about the effects of the Brady Act have typically focused on the large number of adults with felony convictions, histories of mental illness, or other disqualifying characteristics who are blocked from buying handguns from licensed gun dealers in the 32 Brady states (with a total of around 44,000 such denials in 1996 alone).

However, the number of denials doesn't tell us much about what is of primary importance - the number of gunshot injuries that are prevented.

If these handgun denials were successful in preventing violence-prone people from arming themselves, we would expect to see a larger reduction in gun crimes committed in the 32 Brady states compared with the non-Brady states. Disappointingly, our study did not find significant trend differences between the Brady and non-Brady states in the most reliably measured gun crime - homicide. Thus the direct effect on gun crime that advocates expected from denying disqualified adults in the Brady states does not reveal itself in our data.

Another way to measure the effects of the Brady Act is to focus on suicides, an important public health concern since more people die each year by gun suicides than gun homicides in the United States. We do find that the Brady states experienced a greater reduction than the non-Brady states in gun suicides to older people, who have the highest rates. While this drop was partially offset by an increase in non-gun suicides, our evidence suggests that the Brady Act has saved lives by reducing the overall suicide rate among older Americans. Interestingly, the effects of the Brady Act on suicide seem to be caused in large part by the act's original waiting period requirements, which were phased out in late 1998 as states moved to an "instant check" system.

What is one to conclude from all of this? Ignoring our findings on suicide, spokesmen for the National Rifle Association have asserted that our study is simply further evidence that gun control doesn't work. The NRA fails to mention that the requirements of the Brady Act only cover gun sales by licensed gun dealers, and exempt sales by non-dealers - the so-called secondary gun market, which accounts for 30 percent to 40 percent of all gun transfers in the United States every year and an even larger share of guns used in crime. This unregulated secondary gun market is a gaping loophole in the Brady Act.

On the other side, pro-control groups have challenged our conclusions, noting that the Brady Act may have affected gun crime in both the Brady and non-Brady states by disrupting the flow of guns from gun dealers into interstate trafficking and the secondary gun market.

While it is possible that the Brady Act has thus contributed to the nationwide reduction in gun violence, the evidence is sketchy at best. The fact is that homicide rates already started to decline in 1991, before the Brady Act became law. Various reasons have been offered for this decline ‚ more cops, more prisons, a better economy and an easing of the crack epidemic are all plausible explanations. Since non-gun homicides decreased by about the same proportion as gun homicides during the 1990s, the same factors that led to fewer murders without guns are presumably responsible for much of the reduction in gun murders as well. In any event, the percentage of homicides with guns was 65 percent in 1991 and a virtually identical 66 percent in 1997.

Our own view is that the Brady Act was a useful - but modest - first step reducing the availability of guns to high-risk groups such as teens and convicted felons. The Brady Act's apparent effect in reducing gun suicides is encouraging, and implies that lives were probably saved as a result of the waiting period that was required during the first four years of the legislation. But effective action to reduce gun crime may require extending the regulatory umbrella to include the secondary market.

Philip J. Cook is ITT / Terry Sanford distinguished professor of public policy at Duke. Jens Ludwig is assistant professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

TypeCivil Liberties Advocacy[1]
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.

Region served

United States


Kris Brown and Avery W. Gardiner (Sep 2017– )


$3,315,528 (2012)[2]

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence are affiliated American nonprofit organizations that advocate for gun control and against gun violence. Together, they are commonly referred to as the Brady Campaign. They are named after James "Jim" Brady, who was permanently disabled as a result of the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt of 1981, and Sarah Brady, who was a leader within the organization from 1989 until 2012.

The Brady Campaign was founded in 1974 as the National Council to Control Handguns (NCCH). From 1980 through 2000 it operated under the name Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI). In 2001, it was renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and its sister project, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, was renamed the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.


In 1974 the National Council to Control Handguns (NCCH) was founded by armed-robbery victim Mark Borinsky. In 1975, Republican marketing manager Pete Shields, whose 23-year-old son had been murdered, joined NCCH as chairman. In 1980, the organization became Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) and partnered with the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (NCBH). The partnership did not last long; the NCBH, renamed in 1990 as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), generally advocates for stricter gun laws than does the Brady Campaign.[4]:111–112[5]

HCI had few resources until 1980, after the murder of musician John Lennon increased the public's interest in shootings. By 1981, HCI's membership exceeded 100,000. In 1983, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (CPHV) was founded as an educational outreach organization and sister project. In 1989, CPHV established the Legal Action Project to press its agenda in the courts.[4][5]

In 2001, Handgun Control, Inc. was renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence was renamed the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, in honor of both Jim and Sarah Brady. The same year, the Million Mom March (MMM) was incorporated into the Brady Campaign.[4][5][6]



In September 2017, Kris Brown and Avery W. Gardiner assumed the roles of Co-President, replacing Dan Gross.[7]


  • Dan Gross was president from February 2012 to September 2017. He is one of the founders of the Center to Prevent Youth Violence (formerly PAX).[8]
  • Mark Borinsky founded the National Council to Control Handguns in 1974. He served as Chair until 1976. Charlie Orasin was a key player in the founding and growth of Handgun Control (HCI). He worked at HCI from 1975 until 1992.[9]
  • Nelson "Pete" Shields became the organization's chairman in 1978 and retired in 1989.[10]
  • Jim and Sarah Brady were both influential in the movement since at least the mid-1980s. Mrs. Brady became chair in 1989, and the Bradys became the namesakes of the organization in 2000.[11]
  • Richard Aborn served as president from 1992 until 1996 and went on to form the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City.[12][13]
  • Former Maryland Congressman Michael D. Barnes was the president of the Brady Campaign from 2000 to May 2006.[12]
  • Former Fort Wayne, Indiana, mayor Paul Helmke served from July 2006 to July 2011.[14]

In July 1976, Shields estimated that it would take seven to ten years for NCCH to reach the goal of "total control of handguns in the United States." He said: "The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition – except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors – totally illegal."[15] In 1987 Shields said that he believed "in the right of law-abiding citizens to possess handguns... for legitimate purposes.".[16] In November 2008, Brady president Helmke, a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, endorsed the American Hunters and Shooters Association saying, "I see our issues as complementary to theirs." He said, "The Brady Campaign is not just East Coast liberal Democrats."[17]

Political advocacy[edit]

Undetectable Firearms Act[edit]

In 1988, HCI supported Congress in passing the Undetectable Firearms Act, which banned the manufacture, possession and transfer of firearms with less than 3.7 oz of metal, after the emergence of "plastic" handguns[5][19] like Glock pistols.

Brady Law[edit]

HCI was the chief supporter of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, commonly known as the Brady Law, enacted in 1993 after a seven-year debate. It successfully lobbied for passage of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, banning the manufacture and importation of so-called military-style assault weapons.[20]

Castle and stand-your-ground laws[edit]

In May 2005, Florida passed a stand-your-ground law that authorized persons attacked in their homes or automobiles to use lethal force in self-defense without a duty to retreat.[21] Brady Campaign workers passed out fliers at Miami International Airport offering tips like "Do not argue unnecessarily with local people." The group also published ads in The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, and The Detroit Free Press saying: "Thinking about a Florida vacation? Please ensure your family is safe."[22] In 2006, when similar laws were enacted or proposed in other states, the Brady Campaign and other critics warned they could result in vigilantism.[23]

Heller and McDonald cases[edit]

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 in McDonald v. Chicago, Brady president Paul Helmke said he was "pleased that the Court reaffirmed its language in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment individual right to possess guns in the home for self-defense does not prevent our elected representatives from enacting common-sense gun laws to protect our communities from gun violence."[24]


On March 19, 2009, a federal judge ordered a temporary injunction blocking the implementation of the rule allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry firearms concealed within National Park Service lands within states where their permits are valid, based upon environmental concerns, in response to efforts by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.[25][26] On May 20, 2009, the injunction was overturned by the passing of an amendment to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, added by Senator Tom Coburn (R, OK) over the objections of the Brady Campaign.[27]

Sandy Hook school shooting aftermath[edit]

In the month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Brady Campaign raised about $5 million,[28] and a renewed interest in passing legislation to reduce gun violence. The Brady Campaign has been part of the effort on Capitol Hill to pass a set of reforms, including an expansion of the national background check program. Its leadership has met with President Obama and Vice President Biden to craft a package of bills aimed at reducing gun violence.[29]

Aurora, Colorado theater shooting[edit]

In 2014, the parent and step-parent of one of the 2012 Aurora shooting victims, represented by Brady Center lawyers, filed suit against the companies from whom James Holmes purchased the ammunition, magazines, and body armor he used in the shooting. In 2015, the judge in the case dismissed the suit on the grounds that such a lawsuit is in violation of both Colorado law and the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, because the guns and ammunition obtained from the online companies, including Lucky Gunner and The Sportsman's Guide, worked as claimed. He also ordered the plaintiffs to pay the legal costs of the defendants, which came to $280,000. As the Brady Center lawyers would be expected to know applicable case law in such a lawsuit, it is not clear whether the Brady Center or the plaintiffs themselves are responsible for paying the judgment.[30][31]

Criticism of terminology[edit]

Critics said that so-called "plastic" handguns contain many metal components (such as the slide, barrel and ammunition), and can be detected by conventional screening technologies. Their response was to say the type of polymer used in the firearms is opaque to X-ray scanners, which would've hidden the metal components.[32]

The Brady Campaign contends that self-loading and select-fire weapons are virtually identical, since a semi-automatic rifle may be fired rapidly.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^"Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence - GuideStar Profile". 
  2. ^"Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence". Better Business Bureau. Retrieved February 7, 2014. 
  3. ^"About Brady - Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence". 
  4. ^ abcSpitzer, Robert J. (2012). The Politics of Gun Control (5th ed.). Paradigm Press. ISBN 9781594519871. 
  5. ^ abcd"Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: Our History". Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. 2013. Retrieved February 7, 2014. 
  6. ^"Guns & Mothers: About the NRA and the Brady Campaign". ITVS. 2003. Archived from the original on October 12, 2003. Retrieved February 7, 2014. 
  7. ^Kevin Quinn (Board Chair) stated: “The Brady Campaign and Center’s mission has never been more urgent and with a focused strategy to prevent gun violence, we need strong leaders with exceptional strategic and operational skills. The Board of Trustees has appointed Kristin Brown and Avery Gardiner as Co-Presidents. Both Kris and Avery, who are members of Brady’s Executive Management Team and shaped Brady’s programs as the Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Legal Officer, respectively, will lead the Brady team from its Washington, DC headquarters.
  8. ^"Brady Campaign: Biographies: Dan Gross". February 7, 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-07. 
  9. ^"Biographies: Additional". Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2012. 
  10. ^"Nelson Shields 3d, 69, Gun-Control Advocate". The New York Times. January 7, 1993. Retrieved November 14, 2008. 
  11. ^"Biographies: Sarah Brady". Retrieved February 3, 2012. 
  12. ^ ab"Brady Campaign: Biographies: Additional Biographies". Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  13. ^vanden Heuvel, Katrina (May 19, 2009). "Richard Aborn for Manhattan DA". The Nation. 
  14. ^"Brady Campaign: Biographies: Paul Helmke". March 13, 2011. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved 2012-02-07. 
  15. ^Harris, Richard (July 26, 1976). "A Reporter at Large: Handguns". The New Yorker: 53–58. Retrieved January 19, 2014. 
  16. ^Sugarmann, Josh (June 1, 1987). "The NRA is right; but we still need to ban handguns". Washington Monthly. Farlex Inc. Retrieved January 19, 2014. 
  17. ^Birnbaum, Jeffrey H. (March 18, 2008). "New Pro-Gun Group Hopes to Draw From the NRA". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 8, 2008. 
  18. ^"2009 Brady Campaign State Scorecard"(PDF). Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Retrieved March 28, 2010. 
  19. ^"NRA Double-Talk on Guns" (Press release). Brady Campaign. March 3, 2000. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved December 8, 2011. 
  20. ^Barak, Gregg (2007). Battleground. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 335. ISBN 0-313-34040-4. 
  21. ^Sebok, Anthony J. (May 2, 2005). "Florida's New 'Stand Your Ground' Law: Why It's More Extreme than Other States' Self-Defense Measures, And How It Got that Way". FindLaw. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  22. ^Goodnough, Abby (October 4, 2005). "Tourists to Florida Get a Warning as Greeting". New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2011. 
  23. ^Willing, Richard (March 21, 2006). "States allow deadly self-defense". USA Today. Retrieved December 8, 2011. 
  24. ^Montopoli, Brian (June 28, 2010). "Supreme Court Gun Rights Decision: A Win or a Setback?". CBS News. Archived from the original on July 1, 2010. 
  25. ^Eilperin, Juliet; Wilber, Del Quentin (March 20, 2009). "Judge Blocks Rule Permitting Concealed Guns In U.S. Parks". Washington Post. Retrieved January 19, 2014. 
  26. ^"Memorandum Opinion"(PDF). March 19, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2009. 
  27. ^"Congress Approves Bill Restricting Credit Card Industry, Allowing Guns in Parks". FOX News Network. May 20, 2009. Archived from the original on May 24, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2009. 
  28. ^Palmer, Anna (January 14, 2013). "Brady Campaign raises $5M post-Sandy Hook". POLITICO. 
  29. ^Slack, Donovan (January 16, 2013). "Brady Campaign: White House showing 'tremendous leadership'". POLITICO. 
  30. ^Cramer, Clayton. "Odds & Ends," Shotgun News, June 1, 2015, Volume 69, Issue 16, page 20.
  31. ^"Legal Solutions Blog Brady Center blamed for $200K legal fee ruling against Aurora victim's parents - Legal Solutions Blog". Thomson Reuters. Retrieved June 27, 2015. 
  32. ^Ruhl, Jesse Matthew; Rizer, Arthur L. III; Wier, Mikel J. (2004). "Gun Control: Targeting Rationality in a Loaded Debate". The Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. 13: 424–426. Retrieved February 9, 2014. "Plastic Pistols"
  33. ^"What's The Difference Between A Fully Automatic and a Semi-Automatic Assault Weapon? About 3.5 Seconds". Brady Campaign. February 26, 2009. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved December 8, 2011. 
  34. ^"Promo: Guns". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Richard Harris (July 26, 1976). "A Reporter at Large: Handguns". The New Yorker. pp. 53–58. 
  • "First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws" The CDC, Robert A. Hahn, PhD; Oleg O. Bilukha, M.D., PhD; Alex Crosby, M.D.; Mindy Thompson Fullilove, M.D.; Akiva Liberman, PhD; Eve K. Moscicki, Sc.D.; Susan Snyder, PhD; Farris Tuma, Sc.D.; Peter Briss, M.D. October 3, 2003
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
2009 Brady Campaign State Scorecard

  75–100, Most restrictive




  0-10, Least restrictive


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