Brady Bill Anniversary:

On this day in 1993, President Clinton signed the "Brady Bill." The bill did not accomplish its original objective, as introduced in previous Congresses, of restricting private, non-commercial sales of handguns. Nor was the enacted bill structured, as previous versions had been, so that a police chief could indefinitely delay a handgun purchase.

Much of the support for the "Brady Bill" came from the claim--which was demonstrably false--that the bill would have prevented John Hinckley from buying the guns he used to shoot President Reagan and Press Secretary Jim Brady.

At the signing ceremony, President Clinton emotionally told the story of a friend of his who was an Arkansas gun dealer. The gun dealer sold a firearm to an escaped mental patient, who then murdered six people.

"My friend is not over it to this day," said the President, as the crowd applauded. "Don't tell me this bill will not make a difference. That is not true. That is not true."

"Not true" turned out to be a pretty good summation of the President's story, which he had throughout the 1992 campaign.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock) tried to track down the origin of the tale. Back in 1984, an Arkansas man named Wayne Lee Crossley used a .45 pistol and a shotgun to murder four people in a bar. Contrary to the Clinton story, Crossley did not buy the guns himself; he convinced a woman friend to buy the guns for him. The Brady Bill did nothing to prevent people with clean records from buying guns for anyone they want.

When the media started asking for substantiation of Clinton's story the White House stonewalled. But before the no-answers rule was put in force, one White House staffer admitted that the man might just have been treated at a mental institution, rather than having "escaped from a mental hospital." Simply having undergone mental therapy does not legally disqualify a person from owning a gun, under federal law.

While the President spoke movingly about how his "friend is not over it to this day," the dealer/"friend" who sold the guns died several years before Clinton spoke. (Timothy Clifford, "Clinton's Gun Story is a Murder Mystery," (New York) Daily News, Dec. 3, 1993.)

The Brady Bill imposed a five-government-working-day waiting period, during which local law enforcement could check the background of a handgun buyer. In 1998, the waiting period sunset, and was replaced by the National Instant Check System for all retail firearms sales. In 2004, Congress corrected a NICS administrative abuse which had been invented by the Clinton Administration. The "Tiahart Amendment" outlawed the Clinton practice (which had been administratively ended by the Bush administration) of using NICS to compile a national registration database of gun owners.

After the Brady waiting period was passsed in 1993 (and set for expiration in 1998), gun prohibition lobbyists in 1994 successfully pushed for a federal ban on so-caled "assault weapons" (which expired in 2004).

Almost immediately after passage of the "assault weapon" ban, Handgun Control, Inc. (which later renamed itself "the Brady Campaign"), announced "Brady II." Brady II would make permanent the handgun purchase waiting period which was set to expire in 1998, and would limits handgun purchases to one per month. The bill would also require all states to set up handgun licensing systems, with possession of a handgun permitted only to persons who pass federally-mandated safety training. All handgun transfers would be registered with the government.

Brady II would require every owner of a "large" ammunition clip to be licensed the same way that the federal government licenses machine gun owners. Simply to retain the magazines currently owned, a person would have to be fingerprinted, and pay heavy federal taxes. Brady II would also lower the ten-round limit to six rounds. As a result, the owner of a Colt .45 pistol and the standard seven-round magazine for the gun would need to go through the federal machinegun licensing system.

Under Brady II, anyone who owned at least twenty guns or 1,000 rounds of ammunition would be required to obtain a federal "arsenal" license. Licensees would be subjected to three unannounced police inspections per year. Persons who were required to have a license but did not obtain one would of course be subject to whatever enforcement action the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms deemed appropriate.

For purposes of defining an "arsenal," firearms, firearms parts, and ammunition clips would all count as a "firearm." In other words, if a person owned three rifles, three handguns, two ammunition clips for each gun, and set of disassembled spare parts for the rifles and the handguns, he would have an "arsenal" consisting of at least 20 "guns." A thousand rounds of ammunition also count as a so-called "arsenal." So the hundreds of thousands of target shooters who pick up a pair of bricks of rimfire ammunition for $15 every few months would also become the owners of "arsenals."

Today, the Brady Bill is only a memory, and Brady II is so unfeasible as national legislation that it has not been re-introduced. Various components of Brady II, however, are still being pursued at the state and local level, sometimes successfully.