Brady Bill’s legacy carries on 20 years later
The careers of High Point police Chief Marty Sumner and Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes span a time before and after the adoption of the Brady Bill 20 years ago, and both say the legislation has made a difference in law enforcement.
Inspired by the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, the law is best known for setting guidelines about handgun purchases and establishing a background check system for potential firearms buyers. The bill was named for former Reagan administration press secretary James Brady, who was permanently disabled when shot during the assassination attempt on March 30, 1981, in Washington.
President Bill Clinton signed the bill on Nov. 30, 1993, after Congress had passed it earlier that month.
Sumner, who was a patrol officer when the Brady Bill was adopted, said the legislation resulted in more attention about prosecuting suspects who use weapons during crimes.
“We changed several of our policies all the way up to 1997, when we started the Violent Crimes Task Force,” Sumner told The High Point Enterprise. “We were able to get federal prosecutions that we hadn’t considered before. After the Brady Bill, we partnered up with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and have done a lot of firearms prosecutions federally.”
The High Point police launched a program, which has received national attention and acclaim, to deter ex-convicts from reoffending through violent crime.
“Rather than wait until after another act, we began identifying those with a record. We were able to specifically say to them, ‘If you pick up a gun and commit a violent act next, here’s some of these prosecutions that we can use against you.’ Those prosecutions had way more teeth than they did before,” the police chief said.
The High Point Police Department steadily has reduced its violent crime rate for attacks involving firearms in the period since the Brady Bill was adopted, Sumner said.
“The net positive for us is we remain focused on the offenders and the acts of offenders when firearms are used to commit those acts,” the police chief said.
Barnes said the Brady Bill has served as a public education tool for law enforcement, alerting people to the dangers of firearms in the possession of criminal offenders. For example, the attention to the threat of criminals using weapons has highlighted the issue of domestic violence confrontations and the risk of firearms in those incidents, the sheriff said.
A local merchant who sells firearms said he didn’t have a difficult time abiding by the Brady Bill provisions when they were implemented.
Jack Little, owner of the Whetstone Army Navy store in south High Point, said the Brady Bill didn’t lead to monumental changes for businesses selling guns because the state had its own permit system dating from the late 1960s.
“It didn’t change that much for us. The only difference now is we have to do an in-house phone check on rifles and shotguns, which we did not do before,” said Little, who has been in the firearms business for 31 years.
Little said the overwhelming majority of legitimate gun dealers want to abide by the Brady Bill and don’t want to sell firearms to felons.
“It doesn’t do us any good to have criminals out here misusing what we sell,” Little said. “It’s no different than a pharmacist who doesn’t want to sell to someone who would turn around and make meth.”
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Brady Bill provisions
Formally named the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, the Brady Bill was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton on Nov. 30, 1993. The legislation honors James Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan who was seriously injured when shot in 1981 during an assassination attempt on the president. The key provision of the bill requires background checks for handgun purchases from a federal firearms licensee.