Millions of Illegal Gun Sales Prevented, Momentum Builds to Strengthen the System

This Friday, November 30th marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of President Clinton signing the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act into law. This historic law -- the Brady Law -- has prevented more than 3 million gun sales to domestic abusers, felons, fugitives and other dangerous people for whom it is illegal to purchase or possess guns. Over 300 million Brady background checks were processed from 1994 through 2018, and countless lives have been saved as a result.

Since the enactment of the Brady Law 25 years ago, the internet has moved from a nascent idea to an essential tool of life, and gun shows have proliferated across our country, enabling a drastic increase in private sales of guns that are not technically subject to the Brady Law.

Kris Brown, President of the Brady Campaign, stated:

“Until recently, the only obstacle to fulfilling the promise of the Brady Law was legislators who were more beholden to the gun lobby than to the right of children and everyday citizens to live free of the fear of being shot in their schools, places of worship, nightclubs, concert venues, movie theaters or just going about their daily lives in their communities. But for the first time in a generation, we now have a gun violence prevention majority in the United States House of Representatives. We call on all lawmakers in the 116th Congress to expand the Brady background check system and close critical loopholes in their first 100 days in session. In doing so, we will honor Jim and Sarah Brady’s legacy by fortifying the system they worked so hard to create and save countless more lives.”


On March 30, 1981, then-President Ronald Reagan (R-CA), his press secretary James Brady, and several other members of his staff were leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel when a man who was under psychiatric care and was once arrested with three handguns at an airport, opened fire. The first of six bullets fired hit Jim Brady, and then injured two law enforcement officers and President Reagan himself. Brady survived head injuries, a grueling surgery, partial paralysis, and a lifetime of recovery, with his wife Sarah at his side throughout. Despite the grievous nature of his injuries, both he and Sarah -- a tremendous advocate in her own right -- tirelessly dedicated their lives to the creation of the federal background check system. Legislation that became known as the “Brady Bill” was first introduced in Congress in 1987 and was reintroduced as the “Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act” two more times before it was finally passed with bipartisan support on November 11, 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 30 of that year. The law became effective on February 28, 1994.


The fortification of our nation’s most important system to prevent dangerous individuals from purchasing guns should be a top priority, but sadly a gun lobby-led Congress has refused to take action. As a result, gaps in the system have been exploited and lives have been lost. For example:

The “Charleston loophole” (also known as the “default proceed” rule) allowed a white supremacist to purchase a gun before his background check was completed. Shortly after that transaction, the shooter used the gun to kill nine African American churchgoers in South Carolina because of the color of their skin.

While married domestic abusers may be barred from purchasing guns, this prohibition must be extended to include unmarried domestic or intimate partners convicted of domestic abuse, or stalkers with such convictions.

As noted in a 2016 study by the Center for American Progress, those convicted of hate crime misdemeanors are at great risk of continuing to escalate their violence without proper intervention, pointing to the need for keeping guns out of the hands of hate crime perpetrators.

An expanded Brady Law would close these gaps and help prevent tragedies like the Charleston massacre, other violent hate crimes, and domestic gun violence incidents in the future.

Finally, Brady is calling for stricter enforcement of the current system of oversight of gun dealers by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Currently, too many gun dealers have escaped penalties for violating background check laws, due to lax oversight and enforcement by the ATF. These gun dealers have a duty to the public to ensure that all gun laws are followed, and that purchasers who cannot pass background checks are unable to get guns. The ATF is failing in that job, as Brady has discovered through extensive litigation, and we will continue our efforts to hold gun dealers and their enforcement agency accountable in the courts if they do not perform their jobs correctly in their critical mission to deny gun sales to dangerous people.


97% of Americans agree that the background check system should be expanded to cover all gun sales. Across the political spectrum, citizens agree that the time has come to close these loopholes and ensure that the Brady Law remains the first defense in preventing guns from getting into the wrong hands.


Gun Violence in America

  • Over 124,000 people are victims of gun violence in America every year.
  • More than 35,000 of them will die from their wounds.

Brady Background Checks Since Passage

  • More than 300 million Brady background checks from 1994 through 2018.
  • More than 3 million illegal purchases stopped.
  • Between 1994 and 2010, 343 illegal purchases stopped every day on average.
  • Over 90% of Americans want to expand background checks to cover all gun sales.
  • Over 92% of Brady background checks are completed within minutes.

In States that have Expanded Background Checks

  • 53% fewer law enforcement officers are shot and killed in the line of duty.
  • 47% fewer women are shot by intimate partners.
  • Cities in these states see a 48% reduction in gun trafficking.

Remaining loopholes since Brady Act passed

  • 1 in every 5 guns is sold without a background check, through gun shows, private sales, antiques dealers, and over the internet in online sales.
  • Charleston Loophole: if a background check is not completed within 3 business days, a federally licensed firearms dealer may move forward with a firearm transfer/sale (although many licensees like Walmart do not allow such sales until a background check is completed).
  • Boyfriend Loophole: married domestic abusers are prohibited from buying firearms, but the federal law does not apply to dating partners or stalkers -- there is a 500% increase in likelihood of homicide if a gun is available during abusive situations.
  • Hate Crime Loophole: only 7 states prohibit people convicted of a hate crime misdemeanor from owning a gun. Many will plead down to a hate crime misdemeanor from other charges to prevent losing their right to own a firearm. Hate crimes are on the rise: 2017 was the fourth consecutive year of increased hate crimes prosecuted.

Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.


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