Gun control activists press on into stiff wind as Brady law turns 20

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The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which took effect 20 years ago Friday, has blocked more than 2 million firearm sales, preventing “countless” killings and other crimes, gun control advocates said at an event to mark the anniversary.

But the law has not been updated to reflect an evolving marketplace. The statute, for instance, doesn’t cover firearms bought at gun shows on the Internet.

Efforts in Congress to shore up the system have repeatedly faltered, most recently in the months following 2012's elementary school massacre in Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead. And despite claims of momentum from within the gun control movement, there appears to be no clear road forward for federal legislation to expand background checks.

That includes a bipartisan bill, introduced by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), that would require private sellers, like those operating at gun shows and online, to perform background checks on potential buyers. Under current federal law, only licensed gun dealers are required to conduct those screenings.

The bill has broad support in the House, and Thompson, a hunter and Vietnam War veteran who heads the House Democratic task force on gun violence, noted it has gained two more co-sponsors in recent weeks: Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.).

But there's been no change, he said, in Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) refusal to bring the bill to the floor.

"We're still plugging away. I've talked to Speaker Boehner on it — [but] not recently," Thompson said during the Capitol Hill event commemorating the Brady bill’s passage.

“Please know that we’re not interested in quitting,” he said.

The Brady Act, signed by former President Clinton went into effect on Feb. 28, 1994. It is named for Jim Brady, the former White House press secretary who took a bullet in a 1981 assassination attempt on then-President Reagan. 

The law created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and requires background checks for all gun purchases from licensed gun dealers. Gun dealers are required to use the system to screen for felons, drug abusers, the severely mentally ill or others who are prohibited from owning firearms.

A report issued Friday by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence concluded that 2.1 million gun sales have since been stopped since NICS was created, including felons trying to obtain a firearm, according to the report.

However, the firearm industry has undergone a shift in recent years toward more private gun sales, which are not subject to background checks. Roughly 40 percent of all sales now take place at gun shows or online — arenas that are not subject to federal oversight.

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., 21 states have passed laws aimed at curbing gun violence.

“Make no mistake, we have momentum on our side,” said Brady Campaign President Dan Gross, who noted it took six votes over the course of seven years to pass the Brady Act.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to remain persistent in pressing Republican leaders to take up the Thompson measure and said GOP lawmakers would face pressure from constituents in their home districts.

She said the measure would pass if Republican leaders would agree to bring it to the floor.

“I know we have the votes. This is within reach,” Pelosi said. “We’re not going away — anyone who thinks we’re celebrating anniversaries and then going onto something else, no, we’re not going onto something else.” 

This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. to reflect the correct year of the Newtown shooting.