WASHINGTON – Veterans of the antigun wars gathered Thursday to mark the recent 10-year anniversary of former President Clinton's (search) signing into law the Brady bill, which requires background checks of prospective gun buyers.
"We had a huge need: gun deaths were high," said Sarah Brady, who became a leading gun-control advocate after her husband, then-White House press secretary James Brady (search), was shot in an assassination attempt on former President Reagan (search) in 1981. "We had a simple message: Keep guns out of the wrong hands."
The federal law that mandates background checks requires the National Instant Check System (search) — the FBI background check system firearms dealers are required to use — to search all available databases.
Since Clinton signed the Brady bill on Nov. 30, 1993, 1 million illegal gun buyers have been stopped from buying a gun at a gun store, according to the Brady Campaign. Among those not allowed to purchase the guns were convicted felons, fugitives and drug addicts.
While there was much to celebrate for 400 guests, a re-emerging theme was that gun-control advocates must prepare to fight the same old battles.
The ban on assault weapons is set to expire in September 2004, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has said that he will not call for a vote on the renewal of it. Sarah Brady said she hopes President Bush will put pressure on Republican leaders to bring the assault weapons ban up for a vote.
Gun-control advocates also want to fill loopholes in the law. They want background checks to be imposed on the sale of firearms by private collectors operating at gun shows, flea markets and other public places. Private collectors are not affected by the Brady law.
Although the Brady Campaign doesn't endorse candidates in primaries, Sarah Brady said, "All of the candidates have been supportive of the Brady bill. Howard Dean has not been good on the issue. He's reluctantly come out for the Brady law. He wants little to do with it. Others support it, but he is reluctant."
Jim Brady, who uses a wheelchair as a result of the shooting, recalled how tough it was going up against the National Rifle Association, which he called the "evil empire," but when Clinton signed the legislation, he gave real hope to victims of gun-related crimes.
Clinton, who frequently butted heads with the NRA as Arkansas governor and later as president, said it made him feel good to think he's still on the group's enemy list.
"The thing that bothers me most about this whole debate is that the politics is so disconnected from what's really going on," he said.
"Keep working" he told about 400 guests. "Understand this is combat and we've got to get better at this."
The man who shot Reagan, John Hinckley Jr., is seeking permission to leave a psychiatric hospital unescorted for visits with his parents.