Brady finally sniffs victory in battle for handgun law


February 24, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- James Brady scanned the room with a professional eye and decided it was going to be a big day.

There were 18 TV cameras set up in the House Judiciary Committee hearing room, and the number of cameras you attract in this town is one measure of your success.

The last time James Brady was pushing the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act on Capitol Hill, only about eight cameras showed up.

And members of the congressional leadership, who are critical for the bill's passage, were conspicuous in their absence.

But on Monday, standing behind Brady's wheelchair, was Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, the Senate majority leader, who will re-introduce the Brady Bill in the U.S. Senate today.

The bill would require a person buying a handgun to wait for five business days, during which time law enforcement authorities would check the background of the would-be purchaser.

The Brady Bill is a modest bill, and some think it may have only a modest effect on crime in America.

But if it keeps you or someone you care about from getting shot, you will probably feel it is one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed.

And yet it has been fought over and amended and blocked for the last three sessions of Congress.

Now, however, its supporters say that for the first time there is a real difference.

James Brady noticed the difference last week when he sat in his Arlington, Va., home and watched Bill Clinton deliver his State of the Union address.

"If you pass the Brady Bill," Clinton told Congress, "I'll sure sign it."

And at that, James Brady threw his right fist into the air and shouted, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

Brady's other fist stayed where it always does. Dead on his lap.

That's because James Brady, Ronald Reagan's press secretary, was shot in the head on March 30, 1981, in the same incident in which Ronald Reagan, a Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia police officer were also wounded.

L John Hinckley, the gunman, had no trouble buying his weapon.

He walked into Rocky's Pawn Shop in Dallas, put a phony address on a form, handed over his money and walked out with a cheap, German .22-caliber blue steel handgun, a classic "Saturday Night Special."

Do you ever wonder why we keep needing new gun laws? One reason is that the old ones often don't do very much.

In 1968, Congress banned the importation of cheap foreign handguns. So what happened? A German company set up a factory in Miami, imported the gun parts and assembled them here in order to skirt the law.

That Miami factory produced 15,000 to 20,000 handguns per month. And John Hinckley bought one of them with no problem whatsoever.

He also had no trouble buying "Devastator" bullets, which explode on impact and caused part of the damage to James Brady's brain.

You can still see, if you look closely, a slight depression in the skull above Brady's left eye. That is where the bullet entered, clipped the left lobe of his brain and then passed into the right lobe, doing critical damage.

The result was that Brady cannot use his left arm and has trouble with his left leg. His features are a little bit slack, and when he reads aloud, he does so in a monotone.

But his mind is very sharp, and his personality is virtually unchanged.

"When I first came to Capitol Hill, I said I didn't want sympathy or pity," he said Monday. "Congress has the power to prevent what happened to me from happening to others."

And then, a little wistfully, he added: "I was at the top of my career. This thing changed everything for me. But I was lucky. I survived a gunshot wound to the head. I live a productive life. But one out of every five murder victims is under the age of 20."

Brady said that if for no other reason, he hopes the Brady bill passes this time "for the kids."

"They deserve a future," he said.

You gonna win this year? I asked him.

"Yessir!" he said, brightening. "We've got the P-factor. The president! It's a great thing!"

Anything else you'd like?

"Yeah," he said, looking around the room. "I'd like never to have to do this again."

And maybe, just maybe, he won't ever have to.

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