Brady Bill And Its Passage Essay, Research Paper
Brady bill and its passageIntroductionThe legislative process in the United States Congress shows us an interesting drama inwhich a bill becomes a law through compromises made by diverse and sometimes conflictinginterests in this country. There have been many controversial bills passed by Congress, butamong all, I have taken a particular interest in the passage of the Brady bill. When the Bradydebate was in full swing in Congress about three years ago, I was still back in my country,Japan, where the possession of guns is strictly restricted by laws. While watching televisionnews reports on the Brady debate, I wondered what was making it so hard for this gun controlbill to pass in this gun violence ridden country. In this paper, I will trace the bill’s seven yearhistory in Congress, which I hope will reveal how partisan politics played a crucial role in theBrady bill’s passage in this policy making branch. The Brady bill took its name from Jim Brady, the former press secretary of PresidentReagan, who was shot in the head and partially paralyzed in the assassination attempt on thepresident in 1981. This bill was about a waiting period on handgun purchases allowing police tocheck the backgrounds of the prospective buyers to make sure that guns are not sold toconvicted felons or to those who are mentally unstable. Even the proponents of the bill agreedthat the effect of the bill on curbing the gun violence might be minimal considering the fact that themajority of guns used for criminal purposes were purchased through illegal dealers. However,the Brady Bill represented the first major gun control legislation passed by Congress for morethan 20 years, and it meant a significant victory for gun control advocates in their way towardeven stricter gun control legislation in the future. Gun Rights vs. Gun ControlThe Brady bill, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, was first introduced byEdward F. Feighan (D-OH) in the House of the100th Congress as HR975 on February 4,1987. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee, and the debate began. Throughout thedebate on the Brady bill, there was always a clear partisan split; most of the Democrats, exceptfor those from the Southern states, supported the bill while most of the Republicans were in theopposition. For example, when the first introduced Brady bill lost to an amendment by BillMcCollum (R-FL) for a study of an instant check system (228-182), most Republicans votedfor the McCollum amendment (127 for and 45 against) while the majority of the Democratsvoted against it (127 for and 137 against). The exception was the Southern Democrats most ofwhom joined the Republicans to vote for the amendment. This party division was not sosurprising, however, considering the huge campaign contributions made by the chief gun lobby,the National Rifle Association (NRA), directed mostly to the Republicans, and the exception ofthe Southern Democrats could be explained by the gun right supportive nature of theirconstituents. In the 1992 election for example, this organization made $1.7 million contributionto its sympathetic congressional candidates and spent another $870,000 in independentexpenditures for congressional races.1 The influence the NRA exercised on the legislation wasenormous since the final bill passed in 1993 was a compromise version reflecting some of theNRA-sought provisions. I could say that it was because of this persistent lobby that the Bradybill took as long as 7 years to become a law.On the other side, the advocates of the bill enjoyed a wide support from the public aswell as from the Handgun Control Inc., the chief gun control lobby led by Sarah Brady, the wifeof James Brady. The consistent public support for the bill from the introduction through thepassage of the bill was manifested by many polls. One of the polls conducted by NBC Newsand Wall Street Journal on the enactment of the bill said that 74 percent of the 1,002respondents agreed that “the law is good but more is needed.”2 It is without question that thispublic support played a significant role in the eventual passage of the bill.The Brady bill passed the House in the 102nd CongressAfter almost four years from its first introduction to the Congress, the Brady bill wasreintroduced to the House in the 102nd Congress as HR 7 on January 3, 1991, sponsored by76 representatives including Feighan, William J Hughes (D-NJ), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee, and the hearings began in the JudiciarySubcommittee on Crime on March 21, 1991. As written, this bill required a seven-day waitingperiod on the handgun purchases. Schumer, the chairman as well as the chief sponsor of the bill,explained before the Subcommittee that the Brady bill “has a very simple purpose: to keep lethalhandguns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.3″ Aside from the firm supportfrom the public, the bill also gained the backing from the former president Reagan who, in atribute to James Brady, said that it is “just plain common sense that there be a waiting period toallow local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to buy ahandgun.”4 This Reagan’s remark was significant since he had long been a member of theNRA. On April 10, the Subcommittee approved to send the bill to the Judiciary Committee bythe vote of 9-4. The votes were clearly divided along the party line with the sole exception ofF. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), one of the few GOP supporters of the bill, who joined theDemocrats to vote for it. In the meantime, the lobbying by both sides had intensified. The NRAclaimed that the bill went against the principle of the Constitution, pointing out the SecondAmendment which says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” They argued that it wasnot the guns but the people who committed crimes, saying that tougher sentences for thecriminals would work better than the waiting period in reducing crimes. On the other hand,James Brady was lobbying intensely in his wheelchair supported by his-wife-led HandgunControl Inc., which had an emotional appeal to other members of Congress.In the Judiciary Committee, Harley O. Staggers Jr. (D-WV), pushed by the NRA,proposed a substitute bill (HR 1412) which would require states to set up an instant checksystem so that gun dealers could find out immediately on a telephone call whether the purchaserhad a criminal record without any wait. The Staggers’ alternative, however, reminded many ofthe McCollum amendment that wrecked the Brady bill in 1988. With the acknowledgment ofthe Attorney General, Dick Thornburgh, that the practical use of such instant check systemwould be years away,5 the Staggers’ substitute was rejected by the Committee by the vote of11-23. The committee then proceeded to vote on the Brady bill (HR 7), approving it by the 23-11 vote. On May 8, the Staggers’ amendment was rejected again (193-234) on the floor. TheHouse went on to approve the seven-day waiting period Brady bill by the vote of 239-186,placing it on the Senate calendar on June 3. Debate in the SenateIn the Senate, the proponents of the Brady bill, including the Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-ME), were working hard to keep the Brady language part of the omnibus crimelegislation (S-1241) which had already been passed by the House-Senate conferencecommittee. Ted Stevens (R-AK) proposed an amendment to replace the waiting period with aninstant-check system. This amendment was very much similar to the Staggers’ proposal made inthe House, ensuring that the potential buyers who were eligible for the purchase would not haveto wait to buy a gun. Stevens and other GOP opponents argued that the waiting period wouldnot reduce the crime rate since it would not affect the majority of criminals who could purchaseguns illegally while affecting the law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment right to purchase a gunfor sports and hunting purposes. In response to this argument, Mitchell and his other pro-BradyDemocrats maintained that developing a software for a national instant background checksystem would take years, and even if it was available, instant checks would not work as adeterrent to hot-blooded crimes by those without criminal records. Mitchell called the Stevens’plan “a transparent effort to eliminate the waiting period,”6 saying that it was just a pretense tothe public to endorse gun control while actually blocking it. On June 28, the Senate rejected the Stevens’ amendment by the vote of 44-54 with allbut nine Democrats, all from Southern or rural states, voting against it. The 54 votes, however,were not enough for the Brady advocates since they would need 6 more votes to stop a possibleGOP filibuster. On the other hand, filibustering was not the best solution for the GOPopponents neither, since in doing so, they would have to sacrifice the crime bill they wanted. Resulting from this situation was a compromise by Mitchell, Metzenbaum, and the GOPleader Bob Dole (R-KS). In this compromise, the length of the waiting period was changedfrom seven days to five business days, and a new provision was added which would end thewaiting period in two and a half years upon the Attorney General’s confirmation that the instantcheck system met certain standards. Nevertheless, it was the six votes that determined the fateof the Brady bill in the 102nd Congress. The Senate failed to take final action before the end ofthe 1991 congressional session, and even with the passage in the House, the Brady bill still hadto wait two more years for its final passage. In the 103rd Congress (House)In 1993, the year in which the Brady bill got enacted, there was a growing national tidefavoring stricter gun control. The Brady proponents were upbeat with an expectation that thelong-debated bill would finally pass that year. The surge in the public support was promising; aCNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted during March 12 through 14 showed that 88 percentof their 1,007 respondents favored the bill.7 The gun control advocates also had two significantvictories in two States; in Virginia, a legislation was passed restricting handgun purchases to onegun purchase per month, and in New Jersey, the NRA and other gun rights advocates lost intheir effort to repeal the state’s ban on selling assault rifles. Furthermore, the 103rd Congresshad a pro-Brady president. In contrast to Bush, a longtime NRA member, President Clintonopenly expressed his support for the bill; in his speech to Congress on February 17, he said: “Ifyou pass the Brady bill, I’ll sure sign it.” Facing this nationwide pro-Brady tide, Even the NRAshowed a slight change in its language; James Jay Baker, the top NRA lobbyist, said that hisorganization might be able to approve certain version of the bill.8 In this favorable atmosphere, the Brady bill was introduced in the103rd Congress in theHouse as HR 1025 on February 22, 1993 by Schumer and 98 other cosponsors, referred to theJudiciary Committee. The chairman of the Committee, Jack Brooks (D-TX) agreed to keep thebill separate from his other overall crime legislation (HR 3131), encouraging the Bradysupporters with a hope to pass the bill before the scheduled Thanksgiving adjournment. By thedirection of the Rules Committee, the House voted on the House Resolution 302, a ruleproviding for the floor consideration of the Brady bill, approving it by the vote of 238-182. Aswritten, the bill provided for a five-day waiting period upon handgun purchases as well as theestablishment of a national instant criminal background check system. The bill also had aprovision requiring that the waiting period phase out upon the Attorney General’s approval of theviability of the nationwide instant check. The bill by then already represented a compromisebetween the Brady waiting period and the NRA instant check.On the floor, the GOP opponents proposed a series of amendments. George W. Gekas(R-PA) offered an amendment ending the waiting period after five years from its enforcementregardless of the viability of the replacing instant check system. Schumer argued that the Gekas’so-called sunset provision was an unrealistic deadline, pointing out the varying criminal recordkeeping of each States. However, Gekas and other proponents of the amendment insisted thatthe sunset provision was necessary in order to pressure the Justice Department to establish the
computer check system promptly. The Gekas’ amendment prevailed on a 236-98 vote. McCollum proposed an amendment which would revoke the existing State waitingperiods on the installment of the national instant check system. Some States had alreadyadopted waiting periods, and the Brady bill would not affect those states having a waiting periodof more than five days. McCollum claimed that his proposal would make the bill much fairerand more balanced, and assured that it would not affect other State gun laws such as Virginia’sone gun purchase per month legislation. However, meeting with strong opposition fromSchumer and others, this amendment preempting State laws was rejected 175-257. There wasanother amendment proposed by Jim Ramstad (R-MN) requiring the police to provide within 20days a reason for any denial of a handgun purchase. This amendment was accepted bySchumer, and was adopted easily by the vote of 431-2. The House proceeded to voted on the Brady bill on Nov. 10. Just before the vote, thechief sponsor Schumer encouraged other Representatives on the floor to vote for the bill, saying:”today’s votes gives the House of Representatives a real chance to stem the violence on ourstreets and calm the fear of our citizens.” The bill was passed by the House. It was the secondtime for the House to pass the Brady bill, and this time, the vote was 238-189. Passage in the SenateIn the Senate, the Brady bill was introduced as S 414 by Metzenbaum on February 24,1993, referred to the Judiciary Committee and placed on the calendar on March 3. The bill wasalmost identical to the Dole-Metzenbaum-Mitchell compromise approved by the Senate in June1991, requiring a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases which was to be removed oncean instant check system became operational. After a long negotiation, the Senate agreed to takeup the bill separately from the overall crime bill,9 which paved the way for the floor considerationof the bill on November 19. However, the threat of the unsatisfied GOP opponents to block the bill led to anagreement between the Majority Leader Mitchell and the Minority Leader Dole. Under thisagreement, the two leaders was to offer a substitute, and the Senate would then vote on theHouse-passed version of the Brady bill (HR 1025) with the text of the substitute inserted in lieuthereof. The Mitchell-Dole substitute included two new provisions: the sunset provision and thepreemption provision, both of which had been sought by the NRA. The sunset provision wasidentical to the Gekas amendment passed by the House which would end the waiting period fiveyears, and the preemption provision was the same as the McCollum amendment rejected by theHouse. At the beginning of the debate on November 19, Mitchell made it clear that he hadagreed to cosponsor this bipartisan compromise as a procedural means to move the long-debated Brady bill through the Senate. The Majority Leader then declared that he would nowmove on to eliminate those two provisions with which he totally disagreed. The Mitchell-Doleagreement provided, however, that if either or both of those provisions were to be stricken, theRepublican opponents would then block the bill, which meant that the Brady proponents wouldneed at least 60 votes to stop the GOP filibuster to pass the bill and send it to the House.Mitchell and his other Democratic proponents succeeded to pass an amendment striking thepreemption language of the Mitchell-Dole substitute on a vote of 54-45. The other amendmentproposed by Metzenbaum to strike the sunset provision, however, was defeated 43 -56. TheSenate then moved on to the consideration of the Mitchell-Dole substitute with one provisionthus amended. Throughout the debate, the proponents spoke fervently in support of the bill. EdwardM. Kennedy (D-MA) argued that it was time to take action against the epidemic of gun violencein the country, showing shocking statistics which demonstrated the increasing number of gun-related crimes and deaths. He claimed that the waiting period would not only curb the spread ofguns by keeping the lethal weapons out of the hands of convicted felons, but it would alsoreduce the crimes committed in the heat of the moment by providing a cooling off period. Senators whose States had already adopted waiting periods demonstrated with data that thewaiting period had already been proven to work in stopping a significant number of handgunpurchases by convicted felons. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) showed that her State’s 15-daywaiting period stopped 8,060 convicted felons, 1859 drug users, 827 people with mentalillnesses as well as 720 minors from purchasing a gun during January 1991 and September1993. The freshman Senator from California maintained that even though her State’s crime ratewas “unacceptably” high, it could have been much worse without the legislation. Dole and other GOP opponents, however, insisted that they would continue their effortsto thwart the passage of the bill unless the preemption language was included. Mitchell promptlyrejected the GOP demand, criticizing the double principles of those who, having once insistedthat they could not support the Brady bill because it was the Federal Government telling theStates what to do, turned around and said that they now liked the preemption. Metzenbaumjoined in the argument against the GOP opponents, saying they were blocking the bill “becausethey were scared to death of the National Rifle Association,” and calling their demand for thepreemption provision “an effort to kill the bill.” Both sides did not yield, and with two cloturemotions having failed to quash the Republican-led filibuster, one in the afternoon (57-42) and theother at 11 o’clock at night (57-41), the Brady bill was thought by many dead again in theSenate. It was the dissatisfaction of a handful of Republicans with the outcome and their dread ofbeing blamed for killing this popular legislation that saved the life of the Brady bill. The followingday, the discontent of those Republicans who decided to cast a straight vote sent Dole to thenegotiating table again, where he was forced to settle down with a new compromise whichcarried no preemption language. It was actually identical to the one that he and other GOPopponents had filibustered the day before except for the change in the sunsetting period; thecompromise bill would end the waiting period four years after its enforcement, instead of fiveyears, with a possible extension for another year upon the Attorney General’s request. Consequently, by unanimous consent, the Senate agreed to vote on the House-passedversion of the Brady bill (HR 1025) with the text of the compromise inserted in lieu thereof, andalso to request a conference with the House to reconcile the differing versions of the Brady bill.The Brady bill (HR 1025) as amended was passed easily on a vote of 64 to 36, and sent backto the House with a request for a conference. Toward the passageOn November 22, the House agreed to the request of the Senate for a conference uponthe adoption of House Resolution 322 by the vote of 238-187. The conferees were appointedby the Chairs of each chambers: Brooks, Hughes, Schumer, Sensenbrenner, and Gekas fromthe House and Joseph R. Biden. Jr. (D-DE), Kennedy, Metzenbaum, Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT),and Larry E. Craig (R-ID) from the Senate. Later, Senate Republicans replaced Hatch andCraig with Stevens and Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID). The outcome was a conference report whichpreserved the House 5-year sunset of the waiting period with no provisions for the AttorneyGeneral to replace it with the instant check system before then. Several Senate-passedprovisions had also been dropped: the provision expanding the definition of antique firearmsexempt from gun restrictions to include thousands of functioning World War era rifles, and theone allowing gun sales between dealers from different states. A new provision was added in thereport which would require that the police be notified of multiple purchases.Soon after the conference, the chief Senate negotiator Biden explained how they got tothe conference report. According to his statement, at the beginning of the conference, Stevens,a member of the NRA board of directors, announced that the only acceptable outcome for theSenate Republican conferees, Kempthone and himself, would be the Senate-passed version ofthe Brady bill unchanged. The Senate bill had a provision ending the waiting period as early astwo years after the enforcement if the instant background check met certain standards. All ofthe House conferees including the House Republican conferees rejected that demand, which ledto the adoption of the conference report accepted by all the House conferees, Republicans andDemocrats alike, and the Senate Democratic conferees. Thus, the conference report was madewith Stevens and Kempthorne casting dissenting votes.The House approved the conference report (H. Rept. 103-412) easily on a vote of238-187. In the Senate, however, after the explanation on the conference report, Dole andother Republican opponents fired at Biden with accusations that he and other DemocraticSenate conferees completely ignored the wishes of the Senate in the conference. Dole said, “Idon’t think that under these conditions, cloture will be invoked this year or next year.”10 Throughout the day November 23, the hostile atmosphere occupied the Senate floor asthe debate continued. Majority Leader Mitchell declared that he was determined to force theissue to another vote during the year even though it would mean the post-Thanksgiving sessionwhich nobody wanted. Later in the day, he presented two cloture motions for November 30and December 1.The breakdown of the impasse came the following day, November 24, when Doleagreed to accept the terms of the conference report under a compromise that he would submit aseparate bill with the Senate-passed provisions, which was to be considered and votedimmediately in January as soon as the Senate returned to business. Obviously, this solution wasprompted by the loathing of most senators to come back from their respective States toWashington after Thanksgiving break as well as by the pro-Brady public pressure.Consequently, the Senate approved the conference report by unanimous consent. After seven years of debate, the Brady bill was finally passed by the 103rd Congress.President Clinton, as he had promised, signed the bill into law on November 30, and the Bradybill became Public Law 103-159. Beyond the passageThree years have passed since the passage of the Brady bill, but the fight of Jim andSarah Brady and other gun control advocates still continues for stricter gun control legislation. Inearly 1994, they succeeded in passing the assault weapons ban with the Brady momentum, butsince then the NRA has intensified its lobbying, declaring to repeal the gun control legislation. In1994 elections, for example, the NRA spent $3.2 million to get its supporters elected.11 The last1996 election was also a victory for the NRA in that many of its supporters got re-elected eventhough their member Dole was defeated by Clinton in the Presidential race. Their most powerfulsupporter in the Congress is probably the House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who oncewrote in his letter to the NRA chief lobbyist Tanya Metaksa: “As long as I am Speaker of thisHouse, no gun control legislation is going to move in committee or on the floor of this House.”12Even with the GOP majority in Congress, however, it is sure that NRA supporters will face amajor obstacle in the newly-reelected President Clinton, who has declared: “For all the thingsthat will be debated, you can mark my words, the Brady law and the assault weapons bill arehere to stay. They will not be repealed.13″ Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing a lawsuit filed by NRA-backed gun controlopponents. They claim that the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act violates the 10thAmendment of the Constitution which protects state and local government from certain federalinterference. The NRA says it wants to repeal the waiting period as well as the backgroundchecks,14 which reveals the organization’s true intention when it supported the backgroundchecks in its fight against the passage of the Brady bill. The battle between the NRA and theHandgun Control Inc. will continue with the NRA supporters leading the Congress andPresident Clinton challenging them with the veto power. Nevertheless, the Brady bill, with itsunwavering public support, will be the hardest bill to repeal. The passage of the Brady bill of 1993 is one of the best case studies of the legislativeprocess in the U.S. Congress. The seven year history of the bill demonstrated how partisanpolitics played a crucial role in the outcome of the bill, and how difficult it was to make bipartisancompromises to move the bill through Congress. In concluding this research report, I would like to express my deepest respect for thosewho worked hard for the passage of the Brady bill, including Jim and Sarah Brady.