How Brady Background Checks Became Law
Led by Jim and Sarah Brady, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill, established America's federal background check system for gun sales.
Nearly 30 years after it became law, the Brady Bill remains the critical underpinning of all gun violence prevention laws. Without the Brady Background Check system, no other gun laws could properly function.
After Jim Brady survived a bullet to the head during the 1981 assassination attempt of President Reagan, he and his wife, Sarah Brady, knew our country urgently needed common-sense solutions to prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who intend to cause harm.
The path to pass the Brady Bill was neither easy nor short. It took Jim and Sarah seven years, six votes, and three presidents to finally pass the Brady Bill. They worked with a committed team of advocates who lobbied members of Congress relentlessly, systematically, and comprehensively. Their efforts were entirely bipartisan, lobbying both the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, working across the aisle. They convened a broad and diverse coalition that united every corner of American life: law enforcement, medical professionals, civic leaders, civil rights organizations, educators, and more.
By all accounts, the Brady Background Check System has been extremely successful since it was established in 1994, preventing approximately 4 million prohibited gun transactions. In 2015 alone, over 619 prohibited gun transactions were prevented every single day.
Decades after Jim and Sarah Brady led the movement, background checks on gun sales are more popular in America than nearly any policy measure being debated today. A 2018 Quinnipiac poll showed that an astounding 97 percent of Americans support a background check for every gun sale — including 97 percent of gun-owning households. A 2012 survey by GOP pollster Frank Luntz found that even 74 percent of NRA members support this common-sense reform.
Today, Brady is leading the next battle to expand and strengthen the Brady Background system — so that we can close deadly loopholes and save even more lives.
While background checks prevent hundreds of thousands of prohibited transactions each year, today approximately 1 in every 5 gun sales occur without background checks, due in large part to the rise of gun shows and websites that facilitate private sales online. Also, under current law, a licensed dealer may transfer a gun to a buyer after three business days, even if the background check has yet to determine if they are legally eligible to purchase a gun. This gap has allowed prohibited people to acquire firearms at an alarming rate. Since 2008, over 42,000 firearms have been transferred to prohibited buyers as a result of this loophole.
Closing these loopholes is overwhelmingly popular with the American public and must be a priority in order to work towards that safer future. The Brady Background Check System saves lives, but to ensure that the system is actually comprehensive we must expand background checks, with reasonable and narrow exceptions, to cover every gun transaction and must ensure that the system has adequate time to complete a background check before someone can take possession of a firearm.