I met Jim Brady 20 years ago, on my first day at work at what was then the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence. I had known of Jim, of course; the day he was shot in the attempted assassination of President Reagan was one of those searing historical moments you never forget. Now here he was, looking me up and down from his wheelchair.
"What's your job?" he said, an impish scowl on his face
"Staff attorney," I said.
Jim paused. Since the gunman fired a bullet through his brain, Jim struggled to speak. But his mind and wit, I learned, were sharp as ever.
"Just what we need," he smirked, "another lawyer."
Jokes aside, Jim and Sarah Brady understood legal action was critical to reducing gun deaths and injuries. That's why I was hired to take on what I was told was "the most destructive force in America"– the NRA and the corporate gun lobby. (Jim Brady called it "the Evil Empire.") Was that hyperbole? Well, in the 20 years since, about two million people have been shot in the U.S., and about 600,000 of those lost their lives. Every other industrialized country has essentially solved its gun violence problem. It's as if the rest of the world uses a vaccine that saves their citizens' lives, but our political leaders choose to let Americans die in a continuing gun violence epidemic.
Here's what I've learned over twenty years working to reduce gun violence: Jim and Sarah were right. The gun lobby is as destructive as promised, and impact litigation may be the most promising way to prevent gun deaths and injuries.
Working with the most creative and dedicated legal team a lawyer could dream of, it's been my privilege for 20 years to argue in courts across the country on behalf of gun violence victims to stop the flow of crime guns, to make guns safer, to strike down dangerous laws and support life-saving ones. Most lawyers choose cases based on what will make them the most money. At Brady we choose cases based on what will save the most lives.
We've forced irresponsible gun sellers to internalize the costs of the harm they cause, taking the profit out of supplying the criminal market. We've shut down and reformed many of the bad apple gun dealers who supply 90 percent of crime guns in America. We've created precedent in about 25 states, from California to Kansas, from Missouri to New York, victories that hold irresponsible gun companies accountable, and ensure the Constitution protects our most important right – our right to live. I challenge anyone to find a legal team that has accomplished more, or done more good for the safety of Americans.
It's tough work fighting a powerful lobby funded by a billion dollar industry, one that can get legislatures to change the rules when we beat them in court -- moving the goalposts after we score. But we continue to fight -- and to win. It's our clients who inspire me. Police officers who took a bullet to protect their communities. Moms and dads whose children were senselessly killed. Sisters fighting for the memory of their brothers. Each of them channel personal grief into altruism and action, to prevent other families from suffering as they have. There are no greater heroes in America, in my view. For good reason CHPHV was renamed the Brady Center & Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in honor of Jim and Sarah Brady, a testament to the courage and perseverance of extraordinary victim-advocates.
Lawyers can be a jaded, unhappy bunch, but the truth is, most days I would pay to do what I do. And I'm ready to keep fighting the gun lobby for another 20 years, if that's what it takes to make America safe.