The legislative process in the United States Congress shows us an interesting drama in which a bill becomes a law through compromises made by diverse and sometimes conflicting interests in this country. There have been many controversial bills passed by Congress, but among all, I have taken a particular interest in the passage of the Brady bill. When the Brady debate was in full swing in Congress about three years ago, I was still back in my country, Japan, where the possession of guns is strictly restricted by laws. While watching television news reports on the Brady debate, I wondered what was making it so hard for this gun control bill to pass in this gun violence ridden country. In this paper, I will trace the bill's seven year history in Congress, which I hope will reveal how partisan politics played a crucial role in the Brady bill's passage in this policy making branch.
The Brady bill took its name from Jim Brady, the former press secretary of President Reagan, who was shot in the head and partially paralyzed in the assassination attempt on the president in 1981. This bill was about a waiting period on handgun purchases allowing police to check the backgrounds of the prospective buyers to make sure that guns are not sold to convicted felons or to those who are mentally unstable. Even the proponents of the bill agreed that the effect of the bill on curbing the gun violence might be minimal considering the fact that the majority of guns used for criminal purposes were purchased through illegal dealers. However, the Brady Bill represented the first major gun control legislation passed by Congress for more than 20 years, and it meant a significant victory for gun control advocates in their way toward even stricter gun control legislation in the future.
Gun Rights vs. Gun Control
The Brady bill, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, was first introduced by Edward F. Feighan (D-OH) in the House of the100th Congress as HR975 on February 4, 1987. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee, and the debate began. Throughout the debate on the Brady bill, there was always a clear partisan split; most of the Democrats, except for those from the Southern states, supported the bill while most of the Republicans were in the opposition. For example, when the first introduced Brady bill lost to an amendment by Bill McCollum (R-FL) for a study of an instant check system (228- 182), most Republicans voted for the McCollum amendment (127 for and 45 against) while the majority of the Democrats voted against it (127 for and 137 against). The exception was the Southern Democrats most of whom joined the Republicans to vote for the amendment. This party division was not so surprising, however, considering the huge campaign contributions made by the chief gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), directed mostly to the Republicans, and the exception of the Southern Democrats could be explained by the gun right supportive nature of their constituents. In the 1992 election for example, this organization made $1.7 million contribution to its sympathetic congressional candidates and spent another $870,000 in independent expenditures for congressional races.1 The influence the NRA exercised on the legislation was enormous since the final bill passed in 1993 was a compromise version reflecting some of the NRA-sought provisions. I could say that it was because of this persistent lobby that the Brady bill took as long as 7 years to become a law.
On the other side, the advocates of the bill enjoyed a wide support from the public as well as from the Handgun Control Inc., the chief gun control lobby led by Sarah Brady, the wife of James Brady. The consistent public support for the bill from the introduction through the passage of the bill was manifested by many polls. One of the polls conducted by NBC News and Wall Street Journal on the enactment of the bill said that 74 percent...