The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act
is an Act of the United States Congress
An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by government with a legislature named "Congress," such as the United States Congress or the Congress of the Philippines....
that, for the first time, instituted federal background check
A background check or background investigation is the process of looking up and compiling criminal records, commercial records and financial records of an individual....
s on firearm purchasers in the United States.
It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...
on November 30, 1993, and went into effect on February 28, 1994. The Act was named after James Brady
James Scott "Jim" Brady is a former Assistant to the President and White House Press Secretary under U.S. President Ronald Reagan...
, who was shot by John Hinckley, Jr.
John Warnock Hinckley, Jr., attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C., on March 30, 1981, as the culmination of an effort to impress teen actress Jodie Foster. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has remained under institutional psychiatric care since...
during an attempted assassination
The Reagan assassination attempt occurred on Monday, March 30, 1981, just 69 days into the presidency of Ronald Reagan. While leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded by John Hinckley, Jr...
of President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....
on March 30, 1981.
The Brady Act requires that background checks be conducted on individuals before a firearm may be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer - unless an exception applies. If there are no additional state restrictions, a firearm may be transferred to an individual upon approval by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) maintained by the FBI. In some states, proof of a previous background check can be used to bypass the NICS check. For example, a state-issued concealed carry permit usually includes a background check equivalent to the one required by the Act. Other alternatives to the NICS check include state-issued handgun purchase permits or mandatory state or local background checks.
Section 922(g) of the Brady Act prohibits certain persons from shipping or transporting any firearm in interstate or foreign commerce, or receiving any firearm which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or possessing any firearm in or affecting commerce. These prohibitions apply to any person who:
- Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
- Is a fugitive from justice;
- Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
- Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
- Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
- Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
- Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
- Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner, or;
- Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
- Has a record of being a felon
Section 922(n) of the Act makes it unlawful for any person who is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year to ship or transport any firearm in interstate or foreign commerce, or receive any firearm which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.
Currently, 92% of Brady background checks through NICS are completed while the FBI is still on the phone with the gun dealer. In rare cases, a gun purchaser may have to wait for up to three business days if the NICS system fails to positively approve or deny his/her application to purchase a firearm. If a denial is not issued within those three days, the transfer may be completed at that time.
Firearm transfers by unlicensed private sellers that are "not engaged in the business" of dealing firearms are not subject to the Brady Act, but may be covered under other federal, state, and local restrictions.
The Brady Act also does not apply to licensed Curios & Relics (C&R) collectors, but only in respect to C&R firearms. The FFL Category 03 Curio & Relic license costs $30 and is valid for 3 years. Licensed C&R collectors may also purchase C&R firearms from private individuals or from federal firearms dealers, whether in their home state or in another state, and ship C&R firearms in interstate commerce by common carrier. Curios or relics are defined in as "Firearms which are of special interest to collectors by reason of some quality other than is associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons." The regulation further states:
Jim and Sarah Brady
Jim Brady was press secretary to President Ronald Reagan when both he and the president, along with Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy
Timothy J. McCarthy is the current police chief of Orland Park, Illinois and a former member of the United States Secret Service. He is most famous for turning into the line of fire, shielding President Ronald Reagan and being wounded by one of John Hinckley, Jr.'s .22 caliber bullets in the 1981...
and District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delehanty
Thomas K. Delahanty is a retired District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department officer who was wounded during the assassination attempt on U.S...
, were shot on March 30, 1981, during an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. Brady was shot in the head and suffered a serious wound that left him partially paralyzed for life.
John Hinckley, Jr., bought the .22 caliber Röhm RG-14
Röhm, often referred as simply RG, is a German brand of firearms and related shooting equipment. Since 2010 Röhm RG is a brand name of UMAREX GmbH & Co. KG.- History :...
revolver used in the shooting at a Dallas, Texas, pawn shop on October 13, 1980. In a purchase application that he filled out before taking possession of the revolver, he provided a false home address on the form and showed an old Texas driver's license as "proof" that he lived there. This constituted a felony offense. Additionally, Hinckley had been arrested four days earlier at the Metropolitan Airport in Nashville, Tennessee, when he attempted to board an American Airlines flight for New York with three handguns and some loose ammunition in his carry-on bag. That same day, President Jimmy Carter was in Nashville and scheduled to travel to New York. Finally, Hinckley had been under psychiatric care prior to his gun purchase.
According to Sarah Brady, had a background check been conducted on Hinckley, it could have detected some, or all, of this important criminal and mental health history.
Sarah Brady, Jim's wife, became active in the gun control movement a few years after the shooting. She joined the Board of Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) in 1985 and later became its Chair in 1989. Two years later, she became Chair of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, HCI's 501(c)(3) sister organization.
On February 4, 1987, the Brady Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress for the first time. Sarah Brady and HCI made the passage of the bill their top legislative priority. In a 1991 editorial, President Reagan opined that the Brady Act would provide a crucial "enforcement mechanism" to end the "honor system" of the 1968 Gun Control Act
The Gun Control Act of 1968 , by president Lyndon Johnson, is a federal law in the United States that broadly regulates the firearms industry and firearms owners...
and "can't help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases."
Jim and Sarah Brady were guests of honor when President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Act into law on November 30, 1993. President Clinton has stated, "If it hadn't been for them, we would not have passed the Brady Law." In December 2000, the Boards of Trustees for HCI and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence voted to honor Jim and Sarah Brady's hard work and commitment to gun control by renaming the two organizations the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In 2000, controversy arose when Sarah Brady purchased a .30-06 Springfield
The .30-06 Springfield cartridge or 7.62×63mm in metric notation, was introduced to the United States Army in 1906 and standardized, and was in use until the 1960s and early 1970s. It replaced the .30-03, 6 mm Lee Navy, and .30 US Army...
rifle in Delaware for her son. Gun rights groups claimed that this action was a straw purchase
A straw purchase is any purchase wherein the purchaser knowingly acquires an item or service for someone who is, for whatever reason, unable to purchase the item or service themselves...
, intended to avoid the NICS, and may have also violated Delaware firearms purchase laws. No charges were ever filed against Sarah Brady, however. A firearm purchased as a gift is not considered a straw purchase under U.S. federal law if the recipient may legally possess it. Critics pointed out, however, that private firearm transfers like the one made by Sarah Brady are a common concern of gun control advocates (although exemptions for family members have been allowed in past legislation to regulate such sales).
Opposition by National Rifle Association
After the Brady Act was originally proposed in 1987, the National Rifle Association (NRA) mobilized to defeat the legislation, spending millions of dollars in the process. While the bill eventually did pass in both chambers of the United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....
, the NRA was able to win an important concession: the final version of the legislation provided that, in 1998, the five-day waiting period for handgun sales would be replaced by an instant computerized background check that involved no waiting periods.
The NRA then funded lawsuits in Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming that sought to strike down the Brady Act as unconstitutional. These cases wound their way through the courts, eventually leading the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Brady Act in the case of Printz v. United States
Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 , was a United States Supreme Court ruling that established the unconstitutionality of certain interim provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.-The Gun Control Act of 1968:...
, the NRA argued that the Brady Act was unconstitutional because its provisions requiring local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks was a violation of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution
The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, was ratified on December 15, 1791...
(Brief Amicus Curiae
An amicus curiae is someone, not a party to a case, who volunteers to offer information to assist a court in deciding a matter before it...
of the National Rifle Association of America in Support of Petitioners, Printz v. United States
, 521 U.S. 898, 1997). Based on these grounds, the NRA told the Court "the whole Statute must be voided."
In its 1997 decision in the case, the Supreme Court ruled that the provision of the Brady Act that compelled state and local law enforcement officials to perform the background checks was unconstitutional
Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution. Acts that are not in accordance with the rules laid down in the constitution are deemed to be ultra vires.-See also:*ultra vires*Company law*Constitutional law...
on 10th amendment
The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, was ratified on December 15, 1791...
grounds. The Court determined that this provision violated both the concept of federalism and that of the unitary executive. However, the overall Brady statute was upheld and state and local law enforcement officials remained free to conduct background checks if they so chose. The vast majority continued to do so. This issue later became moot when NICS came online in 1998 and the waiting period requirement sunsetted.
The Brady Law today
From 1994 through 2008, 1.8 million attempted firearm purchases were blocked by the Brady background check system. For checks done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...
in 2008, felons accounted for 56 percent of denials and fugitives from justice accounted for 13 percent of denials. In April 2009, the FBI announced it had completed its 100 millionth NICS approval since its inception 10 years before.
Prosecution and conviction of violators of the Brady Act, however, is extremely rare. During the first 17 months of the Act, only 7 individuals were convicted. In the first year of the Act, 250 cases were referred for prosecution and 217 of them were rejected.