In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Bill, which required federally licensed gun retailers to run a background check for every gun purchase. Since then, Brady has prevented more than 3 million gun sales to people who are prohibited purchasers (because they have committed a felony, domestic abuse or have a mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves or others). It should have kept the Sutherland Springs gunman from purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer, but the Air Force did not enter his domestic violence crime into the federal background check database. And Brady does not apply to sales at gun shows and sales made through the Internet, which means that the Sutherland Springs gunman could have bought his weapons at a gun show even if he had failed his background check.
It’s a loophole with major consequences. While some states have tightened their background check laws, others only rely solely on Brady. In the states with tighter controls, only 26 percent of sales happen with no background check. In the others, more than 57 percent do. This discrepancy means that every state in the lower 48 is subject to the weaker laws, since people can buy guns in states with weaker laws and drive them across the border into states with stricter ones.
Sens. Murphy and Blumenthal have been trying to pass the Background Check Expansion Act and close these Brady loopholes at the federal level since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Americans, no matter their party affiliation, are consistently and overwhelmingly supportive of background checks. But the bill has not moved in Congress because the National Rifle Association (NRA) fights any attempt to stop gun violence and has essentially bought the allegiance of the Republican Party.
Republicans in Congress have fought for years to block any legislation that would protect Americans from gun violence. They were once again quick to offer their “thoughts and prayers” in response to the tragedy in Texas. But thoughts and prayers will not keep weapons of war out of dangerous hands or even begin to address our country’s horrific gun violence epidemic.
Sens. Murphy and Blumenthal know they face the same uphill fight this time around, but they are still demanding their colleagues act. As Sen. Murphy noted last night following the Texas tragedy:
My heart breaks for Sutherland Springs. Just like it still does for Las Vegas. And Orlando. And Charleston. And Aurora. And Blacksburg. And Newtown. Just like it does every night for Chicago. And New Orleans. And Baltimore. And Bridgeport. The terrifying fact is that no one is safe so long as Congress chooses to do absolutely nothing in the face of this epidemic. The time is now for Congress to shed its cowardly cover and do something.