Brady Gun Law Turns 20: A Brief Overview

By Brett Snider, Esq. on February 24, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Brady Handgun Violence Act -- aka the "Brady Act" or "Brady Law" -- went into effect 20 years ago this week, so it may be time to review the famous gun law.

What triggered the law to begin with, and what are its key provisions?

Here's a general breakdown of the gun law and its impact:

Reagan Assassination Attempt Spurs Brady Bill

On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to shoot and kill President Ronald Reagan using a gun he'd purchased at a pawn shop. Hinckley wounded President Reagan and three others, including Reagan's press secretary James Brady, who was shot in the head -- a wound that partially paralyzed him for life.

Hinckley would later be found not guilty by a jury by reason of insanity -- he allegedly shot Reagan in an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster -- and he is still under supervision by St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., NBC News reports.

Brady's wife Sarah became a strong advocate for gun regulation, especially background checks for mental illness, after her husband's shooting. She argued that if a background check had been performed prior to Hinckley's gun purchase, her husband and President Reagan may never have been placed in danger.

The Brady Bill Becomes Law

Based on a need to tighten gun sales, the "Brady Bill" was first introduced to Congress in 1987. According to the Brady Campaign, the bill took a number of turns and revisions around the House and Senate before it arrived on President Bill Clinton's desk in 1993.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act went into effect on February 28, 1994. The act's key provisions include:

  • Waiting periods and background checks for handgun purchases. Brady provided a background check structure for most states which lacked one for gun sales. The FBI still maintains the National Instant Criminal Background Check System under the Brady Act, and checks are either initiated by dealers or the state itself.
  • A remedy for the erroneous denial of a handgun. Anyone denied a handgun under the Brady Act based on erroneous information can potentially sue the government over the error. One possible remedy would require the government to correct the inaccurate information.

So what does a background check for gun sales entail under the Brady Act? We'll discuss that part of the law tomorrow.

Editor's Note, February 26, 2014: This post has been revised to correct an editor's error regarding the key provisions of the Brady Act.

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