One of my heroes, Jim Brady, was murdered on August 4. More than 30 years ago, when John Hinckley attempted to assassinate then President Ronald Reagan, one of his bullets hit Brady, Reagan’s press secretary. The bullet that passed through Brady’s brain left him with severe limitations and constant pain.
But in the years following, he and his wife Sarah, became passionate and tireless in their efforts to get legislation passed that would help prevent gun violence. Those efforts achieved the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. The law requires every licensed gun dealer to do a background check on buyers and has blocked an estimated 2 million prohibited gun purchases and helped save countless lives.
Sarah Brady became chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (formerly Handgun Control Inc. ) in 1989, and she and Jim Brady continuously lobbied in support of commonsense gun laws.
My respect for the Bradys grew even more when I went to Washington DC in 2000 to take part in the Million Mom March. My press pass got me close to the stage where Brady and his wife spoke about the Brady Campaign’s mission "to enact and enforce sensible gun laws, regulations, and public policies" in order to reduce gun violence. Their leadership in finding ways to stop gun violence became a guiding light to all of us who struggle against the strategies of the NRA and gun lobbyists.
But NRA-funded lawsuits challenging the "Brady Bill" have gone through state courts and the Supreme Court -- most of them based on "states’ rights." All the states and some local jurisdictions have their own gun regulations, many of which make the Brady bill too porous to be as effective as it could be -- like Florida, whose governor signed a bill this spring that expands the ability to carry firearms in public spaces like bars and airports. But legislators in some statehouses have begun to introduce bills to strengthen gun laws.
A week ago, Governor Patrick signed a new Massachusetts gun safety law. The bill allows police officers to "use discretionary data to deny a firearms identification card" but a judge must agree and they must write out their reasons to "deny a license to carry." The law increases the amount of jail time for people convicted of crimes using firearms, and increases penalties for criminal offenses like carrying a firearm on school grounds. There will be a web-based portal that will expedite background checks, and a firearms trafficking unit within the state police.
"With the stroke of Governor Patrick’s pen today, Massachusetts is now a leader for the rest of the nation in passing common-sense gun reform while continuing to respect the Second Amendment rights we all value," Molly Malloy, the leader of Massachusetts’ chapter of Moms Demand Action, said.
When Brady was fighting for the "Brady bill" he testified before Congress and accused members who declined to support the bill of being "gutless" for their "pandering" to the National Rifle Association. Unfortunately, there are still many in Congress who pander to the NRA.
The gun lobby opposed the bill because "any waiting period would inconvenience legitimate gun buyers." "I need help getting out of bed, help taking a shower, and help getting dressed, and -- damn it -- I need help going to the bathroom ... I guess I’m paying for their convenience," Brady said.
Two weeks ago, Brady paid the full price. The bullet that nearly killed him 33 years ago, finally did. There are far too many people these days paying for our lack of gun control policies and inability to take time and compromise to pass laws like Massachusetts’ legislators just did. We owe it to Jim Brady to carry on his legacy.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.