I was in the third grade when President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill. The only thing I remember about the signing of the bill was a short segment on KMVT focusing on what the new law would mean for Idahoans. There are very few things I remember my father saying in regard to politics, but I do remember him saying, "that man wants to take away my guns." I was too young to understand what he meant and I certainly was too young to understand that what was happening on a national level was not the doing of the President of the United States alone. I knew nothing about James Brady or even the man that shot him, John Hinckley. I knew that somehow Ronald Reagan was involved, but really all I knew about Ronald Reagan was that he was the husband of a woman who had my friends and I all wearing these "Drug Free By '93" sweatshirts.
The Brady Bill, otherwise known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, is now one of the most politicized legislative decisions in modern American history. It is referred to by some with as much disdain as Roe v Wade. Since President Clinton signed it into law on November 30, 1993, flanked by James and Sarah Brady, every politician, Democrat, Republican, or otherwise, has had to publicly acknowledge their own views and positions on gun control.
Since the passage of the Brady Bill, that particular legislation has only been challenged constitutionally once--on tenth amendment grounds--in Printz v United States. Surprisingly, the recent Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v Heller is the first ruling in the history of the Supreme Court that has even attempted to define the rights provided by the second amendment.
Fifteen years ago today, the signing of the Brady Bill symbolized a major effort in the United States to get serious about crime. Fifteen years later it symbolizes the politicizing of protection. The Brady Campaign touts the success of Brady background checks, while continuing to strive for gun control and safety measures nationally. Sarah Brady's role in this continuing effort has been limited by her recent battle with cancer, however her words from that historic signing ceremony live on:
Our critics have said that the Brady Bill was only symbolic. Well, I think there is some symbolism in the Brady Bill -- it's symbolic of teamwork, of people from all over this nation working together to pass something that the people wanted. I think it's symbolic that members of Congress could stand up to a large lobby. I think it's symbolic of a lot of things. But I don't want anyone to feel that that's all it is. The Brady Bill is not just symbolism. It will begin to make a difference. It will begin to save lives. We read in The Post this morning that in four states alone, over 50,000 people were stopped in the last four years from getting weapons illegally -- or over the counter. It will help.The Brady Bill has helped in ways I doubt Sarah Brady could have conceived.
In this state there are no laws for child access prevention. We lack serious laws for registration, carrying, and licensing. This is a state where we cry foul anytime the government intervenes, yet in the most dangerous situations we would rather fear the encroachment of our rights rather than the safety of our children and families.
I come from a family that is pro-gun. My brothers are all hunters, my mother has been known to go target shooting with a rifle from time to time, and her husband owns more guns than he does socks, none of which are locked up. I never took hunter safety classes, I never was taught how to properly treat a gun, and nobody ever told me that guns were dangerous. I knew, as most of my friends did, that you stayed away from the guns.
Despite what I knew, I still had three friends from elementary school or junior high die or be seriously injured by their own hand with guns. One with a shotgun, on accident, one with a rifle, on purpose, and one with a handgun, also on purpose. The first was in the fifth grade when he died, accidentally shooting himself and being too far from help for it to have reached him in the time. The second was a high school boy, much older than me, who wanted to end his life, but knew nothing about guns or how to use them and ended up causing him brain damage, brain damage that would torment him for nearly fifteen years before it would eventually take his life. The third, a girl I rode the school bus with everyday, who in junior high was so miserable she saw no other way out and used her older brother's handgun to take her own life one day after school.
I have never really cared if being anti-gun was the popular position to take. I have struggled to explain it to those who are far more versed in gun law and even constitutional law than I. And I have read story after story of kids accidentally shooting classmates because they thought the guns were just toys, knowing as I do, that those kids could have been and were my friends.
I personally feel I own a debt of gratitude to James and Sarah Brady, a debt respected and shared by my fellow Idahoans or not.