Opinion
Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
Opinion Opinion L.A.
Opinion

James Brady and the case for gun safety laws

James Brady put a face to gun violence. Whose face will be what Brady wished for: the last of them?
Until Gabrielle Giffords, James Brady was the nation's most visible victim/advocate on gun control matters

Jim Brady spent more than 30 years in a wheelchair, but he was one of the tallest men in Washington.

The press secretary to Ronald Reagan was gravely wounded in the gunfire that also struck the president as he was leaving a Beltway hotel only a couple of months after his 1981 inauguration.

Brady, who died this week, became the the centerpiece of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence. Nothing put across the message for gun laws more vividly than the sight of this man rolling into a meeting, a Senate hearing, a rally, partly paralyzed and hesitant of speech but passionate of purpose. Until Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Brady was the nation’s most visible and vocal victim/advocate on gun control matters.

When he was questioned during a 1989 Senate hearing about a gun purchase waiting period being an inconvenience for gun buyers, he retorted, “I need help getting out of bed, help taking a shower, and help getting dressed and — damn it — I need help going to the bathroom. I guess I’m paying for their convenience.”

In spite of his passion and purpose, the spatter of gunfire outside the hotel in 1981 didn’t move the needle on federal gun laws like the ones that had allowed the shooter, John Hinckley Jr., to buy a pawnshop Saturday Night Special cobbled together from foreign-made bits.

Nothing happened for a dozen years, until 1993, when President Clinton signed the Brady Bill, mandating licensed dealers and waiting periods and background checks for buying a handgun.

After President Kennedy was assassinated by a man using a mail-order rifle in 1963, nothing happened. It took two additional political assassinations — of his brother, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, and of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — before the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed.

The Stockton playground shootings of 1989 and the 1993 San Francisco high-rise shootings persuaded Congress to pass an assault weapons ban and to outlaw a number of other weapons. The assault weapons ban expired 10 years ago, and Congress has refused to extend or renew it since.

Then came the Columbine, Colo., school massacre in 1999 — and nothing happened.

Virginia Tech, 2007 — the first major federal gun law in more than 10 years added 2 million people to the federal background check database, among them the mentally ill, although the Justice Department found that only 4.3% of homicides are committed by people with histories of mental illness.

Gabrielle Giffords, 2011 — nothing happened, despite ongoing Democratic and Republican congressional efforts. No, that’s not quite true. A month after the shooting, nearly half of Arizona’s state legislators did sponsor a successful bill to name an official state gun.

The Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings — no federal gun law changes.

The Newtown, Conn., massacre of 26 schoolchildren and teachers, 2013 — nothing.

So the recent marquee massacres haven’t changed federal gun laws in any real way. Neither has the daily abattoir of gun deaths in the United States, more than half of them suicides, and, nearly twice a week, some child, often shot dead by some other child with a gun that was left within reach. Yet not even the merest child-safety federal gun legislation, like trigger locks — laws that don’t restrict anyone’s right to buy a gun — can get passed.

For 30 years, James Brady put a face to gun violence in this country. Every day, 80 or 90 more faces join his. Whose face will be what Brady wished for — the last of them?

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • James Brady, the pope and ethnic stereotypes
    James Brady, the pope and ethnic stereotypes

    When James Brady died Monday, most Americans probably thought of him in connection with one of two things: the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan — in which Brady, the amiable president’s amiable press secretary, was seriously wounded — or Brady’s subsequent involvement in the gun-control...

  • The truth behind Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theories
    The truth behind Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theories

    Jade Helm 15 is a special forces training exercise scheduled to take place this summer across seven Southwestern states. It has sparked strong opposition and elaborate conspiracy theories. When Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria answered questions about the operation at a public meeting last month in Bastrop...

  • The job-killing-robot myth
    The job-killing-robot myth

    Are robots displacing millions of workers? Many people seem to think so. Recently, for instance, the New York Times ran an op-ed claiming that “the machines are getting smarter, and they're coming for more and more jobs.” On Tuesday the Wall Street Journal sounded the alarm that “robots are taking...

  • How an app destroyed their streets: Readers count the Waze
    How an app destroyed their streets: Readers count the Waze

    For many drivers in Los Angeles, the app Waze is a godsend, providing real-time, crowdsourced traffic tips to motorists desperate for alternatives to congested thoroughfares and highways that, during rush hour, make a mockery of the word "freeway." But to some residents of the formerly quiet neighborhoods...

  • While we focus on candidates, we lose sight of threats to democracy
    While we focus on candidates, we lose sight of threats to democracy

    Over the past few days, the field of declared 2016 presidential candidates has picked up a few more names, each announcement quickly detailed and closely analyzed. Does getting bounced from her seat running Hewlett-Packard, and conducting a solitary and abysmal U.S. Senate campaign, make Carly...

  • Britain's election: A muddle across the pond
    Britain's election: A muddle across the pond

    Americans exasperated by the gridlock in Washington sometimes look enviously at Britain, where the parliamentary system combines executive and legislative duties and the prime minister almost always gets his or her way. Unlike a president who may face a Congress controlled by the other party —...

  • The USA Freedom Act: A smaller Big Brother
    The USA Freedom Act: A smaller Big Brother

    Last fall, Congress was on the verge of doing away with the most troubling invasion of privacy revealed by Edward Snowden: the National Security Agency's indiscriminate collection of the telephone records of millions of Americans. But then opponents cited the emergence of Islamic State as a reason...

  • There's no place for graffiti in America's national parks
    There's no place for graffiti in America's national parks

    City dwellers can argue over whether graffiti is vandalism or art or some strange hybrid of the two. But when it appears in national parks, there should be no question: It's desecration.

Comments
Loading