Happy Birthday Brady Background Checks! | Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Happy Birthday Brady Background Checks!

Kris Brown and Avery Gardiner

Twenty-four years ago, the first Brady background check was conducted. Like much else originally developed in the 90's, this system has undergone a drastic evolution to become what it has today. What began as a gun store picking up the phone to local law enforcement which then dug through paper records to find a gun buyers' criminal history, has developed into a complex network of state and federal databases with millions of computerized records, hundreds of employees, and a history of success. And it all began with two people: James and Sarah Brady, former leaders of our organization, who lobbied Congress and mobilized grassroots support to turn the tide against gun violence. Their courage and tireless efforts over six years culminated in the passage and signing of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, which became known as "The Brady Bill."

Since then, the background check system has stopped over three million sales of guns to people barred from having them under federal law. Today, a record 97 percent of Americans support actually expanding Brady background checks to every gun sale. We know that background checks save lives. We also know that when the system fails, it puts us all in danger. Understanding our background check system requires recognizing an undeniable truth: for how far it's come since its humble beginnings, it is only as effective as the records that are contained within it. The shootings at Virginia Tech, Charleston, and Sutherland Springs are prime examples of a system that remains under-resourced and outdated.

The good news is that we can strengthen this system. We can close the gaps in today's Brady background check system. First, we must extend background checks to every gun sale, every time, and allow the background check to be completed before a gun is transferred. Today, about one in five guns is sold without a background check; many of these purchases are facilitated with the help of online websites used by private sellers who are not required under federal law to conduct a check. Second, we must devote financial resources to modernizing and automating the state databases that feed into the NICS system--without that, backlogs will continue to build, and human error will allow dangerous people to slip through the cracks. Last, and certainly not least, we must encourage and incentivize states to conduct their own background checks. States have more accurate and up-to-date criminal records, and access to other mental health and domestic violence records that should be part of determining whether a potential purchaser is eligible to buy a gun.

Real problems exist, but so do the solutions. Americans are lifting their voices and challenging their elected officials to put the calls of their constituents and public safety over the threats of the gun lobby, and we are standing with them. Today, we honor the great legacy left by Jim and Sarah Brady, but tomorrow we will continue our calls to Congress to get serious about investing the necessary resources to make this a system worthy of our great nation.