James Brady's legacy

James Brady, the White House press secretary who became a leading gun-control advocate after he and President Ronald Reagan were shot in 1981, once called members of Congress "gutless" for pandering to the gun lobby. Such organizations as the National Rifle Association had complained that imposing a waiting period would "inconvenience" legitimate gun-buyers.

"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," he said.

Mr. Brady, who died Monday at 73, never fully recovered from a bullet wound to the head that left him partially paralyzed, and though he lived long enough to see passage of a federal law bearing his name that requires waiting periods and background checks, he also witnessed the nation's continuously depressing history of gun violence.

Columbine; Virginia Tech; Aurora, Colorado; Sandy Hook and other massacres occurred despite the Brady bill, which wasn't signed into law until 12 years after would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr. opened fire. Mr. Reagan himself didn't endorse the legislation for a full decade.

As if to underscore the deadly availability of handguns, four years after the shooting, Mr. Brady's 6-year-old son, Scotty, found what he thought was a toy gun in a family friend's car and pointed it at his mother. It turned out to be a fully loaded pistol, much like the one that Mr. Hinckley had purchased for $29 in a Dallas pawn shop.

Mr. Hinckley, who had a history of mental problems and was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982, evidently encountered little difficulty obtaining a handgun then, just as Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, James Holmes and Adam Lanza did more recently.

Mr. Brady and his wife, Sarah, started working with a legislative lobbying group that later was renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Though they finally managed to get the Brady bill passed after years of acrimonious debate, lawmakers in many states continue to resist more stringent legislation, as was described last week in a report produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, "Gun Wars: The Struggle Over Rights and Regulation in America."

The report notes that four months after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, lawmakers in Connecticut banned 115 types of semiautomatic firearms. Four months after the shooting of a congresswoman and a federal judge in Tucson, lawmakers in Arizona declared the Colt Single Action Army revolver the official state gun.

"The differences (between the states) reflect the wide divide separating Americans from one end of the country to the other, in which long-established gun cultures collide with efforts to restrict gun ownership. While Connecticut took extreme measures to muscle through one of the most comprehensive packages of gun laws in the country, Arizona legislators moved to make it easier to carry guns in public," the report states.

We are pleased to live in a state that values public safety over misguided interpretations of the Second Amendment, but mindful of the fact that Congress must close gaping loopholes in existing gun laws, and lawmakers in other states must eventually come to their senses.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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