Screenshot 2024 04 01 at 1 39 27 PM
Jim Brady with President Bill Clinton as he signs the Brady Bill into law on November 30, 1993.
Screenshot 2024 04 01 at 1 39 27 PM
Jim Brady with President Bill Clinton as he signs the Brady Bill into law on November 30, 1993.

Brady Background Checks have prevented nearly 4.9 million prohibited purchasers from obtaining a firearm or permit.

In 1981, Jim Brady — who at the time was the White House Press Secretary under President Ronald Reagan — was shot and permanently paralyzed during an assassination attempt on President Reagan. But Jim and his wife, Sarah, did not let tragedy stop them. Instead, they were galvanized to take action to save lives.

Jim and Sarah Brady led the effort with the organization that now bears their name — Brady — to pass federal legislation requiring background checks for gun sales. Jim and Sarah spent seven years navigating the halls of Congress, meeting with legislators from both sides of the aisle to generate enough votes to pass the “Brady Bill,” a law they knew would save lives. Brady President Kris Brown was one of the many staffers on Capitol Hill working alongside Jim and Sarah to pass this landmark legislation.

After six long years, seven votes in Congress, and three presidential administrations, President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law on November 30, 1993, creating the country’s first and only background check system for gun sales.

Thirty years later, Brady Background Checks continue to save lives. 

Under the Brady Bill, all federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run background checks on individuals looking to purchase a firearm to prevent prohibited purchasers, those with proven risk factors, from obtaining a gun.

Yet, today, with the rise of the internet and gun shows, 1 in 5 guns are sold via private sales which do not require a Brady Background Check. This loophole undermines the effectiveness of nearly all other gun laws. In order to save even more lives, the Brady Background Check System must be strengthened and expanded to include all gun transfers

We are able to proudly say that over the past 30 years, Brady Background Checks have prevented nearly 4.9 million prohibited gun transactions since its enactment in 1994.¹

In 2020 alone, an average of over 1,000 prohibited purchasers were blocked from purchasing a firearm or obtaining a permit every single day because of Brady Background Checks.

Between 1993 and 2018, the firearm homicide rate among those 12 years of age and older decreased by 41%. The change in the rate of nonfatal firearm injury was even larger, with a 76% decrease over the same time period.

Researchers have also recognized that the Brady Background Check System significantly changed gun trafficking. The Brady law made gun trafficking across state lines more difficult, resulting in an immediate reduction in gun crime.

While Brady Background Checks have continued to make a life-saving impact, modern technology has left the current federal background check system with several loopholes that contribute to the growing epidemic of gun violence.

One loophole is that under current law, purchases facilitated online from unlicensed dealers are not subject to the federal background check system. Back in 1993 when the Brady Bill was signed into law by President Clinton, no one could imagine how advanced, connective, and sophisticated the Internet would become in such a short period of time.

Today, an estimated 2.4 billion people use the Internet, which is 100 times more users than in 1994. It was not until 1995 that e-commerce became accessible to the general public with the creation of Craigslist, eBay, and Amazon. In 1998, the Google search engine was launched, transforming how people across the world accessed and consumed information. As these technologies emerged, it became increasingly easier to buy and sell products, including firearms.

In the absence of Congress passing new legislation, the federal government must clarify and expand its definition of what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms to require more private sellers, including those that identify purchasers online, to obtain federal firearm licenses and conduct background checks. Earlier this year, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) opened a comment period for the American public to provide feedback on the Biden administration’s proposal for how this definition should be expanded. So far, Brady and our supporters have sent tens of thousands of comments in support of the proposed rule to strengthen the Brady Background Check System. We expect to know the final rule decision in the coming months.

As technologies developed at an unprecedented rate, gun violence began to increase again. Yet, Congress has failed to pass federal legislation to strengthen and expand the Brady Background Check system due to partisan gridlock.

Today, an average of 117 people are shot and killed and an additional 210 people are shot and survive each day. Of that, 67 people die by firearm suicide and another 46 people are killed by firearm homicide.

Over the past two decades, the firearm mortality rate in the United States has grown significantly. Between 2001 and 2021, the firearm mortality rate increased by 42%.

Source: CDC WISQARS Fatal Injury Report. This dataset only includes mortality rates dating back to 2001, so it was not possible to see the full change in firearm mortality since the Brady Bill was signed into law in 1993.

As seen in Figure 1, around 2015 the firearm mortality rate began steadily increasing with an even larger increase seen in 2020. In part, this pandemic surge is attributed to the 64% increase in gun sales in 2020 compared to the previous year. As research suggests, easy access to firearms increases the risk of firearm homicide, firearm suicide, and unintentional shootings alike.

Although today’s firearm homicide rate remains below the firearm homicide rate in 1993, the increasing rate of firearm homicides and overall firearm mortality must be addressed. Yet, lawmakers in Congress consistently fail to build a bipartisan consensus to pass life-saving legislation to reduce gun violence across the country.

Despite the barriers we face at the federal level, Brady remains hopeful that, together, we can end gun violence.

In the wake of political stalemates to expand Brady Background Checks on the federal level, we have turned to state legislatures to implement expanded background check systems; including on private sales and sales at gun shows.

See Table 1 for more information on state laws at the end of this analysis

Today, 21 states and DC have enacted legislation to expand the federal Brady Background Check System, which means over 166 million Americans are now subjected to more extensive background checks to account for the growing loopholes that exist in our national system.

Research indicates that expanded background checks have the ability to reduce firearm homicide rates among Black Americans, who are disproportionately impacted by firearm homicide, most commonly due to trafficked firearms flooding their communities. As such, these expanded requirements work to address racial inequities as well as address the modern challenges facing our country today when it comes to firearm access.

Brady helped pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first comprehensive gun safety legislation since the passage of Brady Background Checks.

Among many things, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 broadened the requirements for who needs to obtain a federal firearm license and established enhanced background checks for buyers under the age of 21. In just over six months, more than 1,000 prohibited gun sales were stopped thanks to these new requirements.

Now more than ever, the American people want to see the United States enact stronger gun laws, including Universal Background Checks.

Polling indicates that the vast majority of Americans support stronger gun laws and believe it is too easy to gain access to firearms. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults believe that our nation needs stronger gun laws. The majority (61%) of Americans believe it is too easy to obtain a gun in our country.

An astounding 97% of U.S. adults favor the passage of Universal Background Checks at the federal level. The only thing more popular among American adults is pizza.

Brady Background Checks have been instrumental in reducing the rates of firearm homicide and firearm mortality in the U.S. since 1993, but we need to continue to expand this system to protect the American people and end gun violence.

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