The Brady Bill

The legislative process in the United States Congress shows us an
interesting drama in which a bill becomes a law through compromises made by
diverse and sometimes conflicting interests in this country. There have been
many controversial bills passed by Congress, but among all, I have taken a
particular interest in the passage of the Brady bill. When the Brady debate was
in full swing in Congress about three years ago, I was still back in my country,
Japan, where the possession of guns is strictly restricted by laws. While
watching television news reports on the Brady debate, I wondered what was making
it so hard for this gun control bill to pass in this gun violence ridden
country. In this paper, I will trace the bill's seven year history in Congress,
which I hope will reveal how partisan politics played a crucial role in the
Brady bill's passage in this policy making branch.
The Brady bill took its name from Jim Brady, the former press secretary
of President Reagan, who was shot in the head and partially paralyzed in the
assassination attempt on the president in 1981. This bill was about a waiting
period on handgun purchases allowing police to check the backgrounds of the
prospective buyers to make sure that guns are not sold to convicted felons or to
those who are mentally unstable. Even the proponents of the bill agreed that
the effect of the bill on curbing the gun violence might be minimal considering
the fact that the majority of guns used for criminal purposes were purchased
through illegal dealers. However, the Brady Bill represented the first major
gun control legislation passed by Congress for more than 20 years, and it meant
a significant victory for gun control advocates in their way toward even
stricter gun control legislation in the future.

Gun Rights vs. Gun Control
The Brady bill, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, was first
introduced by Edward F. Feighan (D-OH) in the House of the100th Congress as
HR975 on February 4, 1987. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee,
and the debate began. Throughout the debate on the Brady bill, there was always
a clear partisan split; most of the Democrats, except for those from the
Southern states, supported the bill while most of the Republicans were in the
opposition. For example, when the first introduced Brady bill lost to an
amendment by Bill McCollum (R-FL) for a study of an instant check system (228-
182), most Republicans voted for the McCollum amendment (127 for and 45 against)
while the majority of the Democrats voted against it (127 for and 137 against).
The exception was the Southern Democrats most of whom joined the Republicans to
vote for the amendment. This party division was not so surprising, however,
considering the huge campaign contributions made by the chief gun lobby, the
National Rifle Association (NRA), directed mostly to the Republicans, and the
exception of the Southern Democrats could be explained by the gun right
supportive nature of their constituents. In the 1992 election for example, this
organization made $1.7 million contribution to its sympathetic congressional
candidates and spent another $870,000 in independent expenditures for
congressional races.1 The influence the NRA exercised on the legislation was
enormous since the final bill passed in 1993 was a compromise version reflecting
some of the NRA-sought provisions. I could say that it was because of this
persistent lobby that the Brady bill took as long as 7 years to become a law.
On the other side, the advocates of the bill enjoyed a wide support from
the public as well as from the Handgun Control Inc., the chief gun control lobby
led by Sarah Brady, the wife of James Brady. The consistent public support for
the bill from the introduction through the passage of the bill was manifested by
many polls. One of the polls conducted by NBC News and Wall Street Journal on
the enactment of the bill said that 74 percent of the 1,002 respondents agreed
that "the law is good but more is needed."2 It is without question that this
public support played a significant role in the eventual passage of the bill.
The Brady bill passed the House in the 102nd Congress
After almost four years from its first introduction to the Congress, the
Brady bill was reintroduced to the House in the 102nd Congress as HR 7 on
January 3, 1991, sponsored by 76 representatives including Feighan, William J
Hughes (D-NJ), and Charles Schumer (D-NY). The bill was referred to the
Judiciary Committee, and the hearings began in the Judiciary Subcommittee on
Crime on March 21, 1991. As written, this bill required a seven-day waiting
period on the handgun purchases.