In the early fall of 1994, the gun control movement achieved unprecedented success in Congress. The “Brady Bill” had been enacted in November 1993, and went into effect in February 1994. After a very tough political fight, President Clinton’s omnibus crime bill was passed in August 1994. The bill included a 10-year ban on so-called “assault weapons,” as well as other gun controls. Handgun Control, Inc. (which later changed its name to “The Brady Campaign” promptly began to push for legislation which it called “Brady II.”
Although the bill was introduced, it did not receive a hearing in the final weeks of Congress before the election. The November 1994 elections resulted in a Republican landslide; in a December 1994 interview with the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, President Clinton stated that the NRA was the reason that the Republicans had won control of Congress.
Nevertheless, Brady II is worth remembering as a roadmap for the gun control lobby’s hopes for “the next step” in federal gun control. Due to the results of the 1994 and subsequent elections, HCI/BC has not been so bold in its declared legislative agenda. It would be interesting to know which, if any, items from the Brady II bill are rejected today by the Brady Campaign or the political candidates which it has endorsed.
Any person who owns 20 or more firearms or more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition or primers (e.g. two “bricks” of rimfire ammo) would be required to get an “arsenal” license. To obtain a federal arsenal license, a person would need to be fingerprinted, obtain permission of local zoning authorities, and pay a $300 tax every three years. Her home would be subjected to unannounced, warrantless inspection by the government up to three times a year. “Arsenal” owners would also have to obtain a $100,000 dollar insurance policy.
“Brady II” redefines “firearm” to include magazines and “any part of the action” (such as pins, springs, or screws). Thus, if a person has two Colt pistols, three Remington rifles, and four magazines (of any size) for each gun, then he own an “arsenal.” Or if he owned two guns, six magazines, and a box of disassembled gun parts that contained five springs, five pins, and five screws, then he would own 23 “firearms” and would have to obtain an “arsenal” license.
Every handgun buyer would be required to obtain a state handgun license. The license would be good for no more than two years. No-one could obtain a license without passing a state-controlled “safety” course. The fees for the license and the safety course would have no limits. The fees could be set far in excess of the state cost of providing the license and the course; instead, the fees could a source of general revenue.
Nothing would prevent licensing authorities from taking months or years to issue a license. And nothing would prevent the authorities from making the “safety” test so rigorous that almost no-one except an expert shooter could pass.
That an applicant had been shooting handguns for 50 years, or was an NRA certified safety instructor, or a proficient competitive target shooter would not exempt him from the requirement to pay for the government “safety” class.
Every handgun transfer (including one’s adult son an old revolver) would be subject to these restrictions. In addition, every handgun transferred would have to be registered by make and serial number.
The late Pete Shields, the chair of HCI, in a 1976 interview, explained his strategy for using registration as a way-station to handgun confiscation:
“The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition–expect for the police, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors–totally illegal.”
(Richard Harris, “A Reporter at Large: Handguns,” New Yorker, July 26, 1976, p. 58).
The Brady Campaign currently denies that it wants to confiscate handguns. But, to the extent that the promise is sincere, is it more likely to be kept than the group’s earlier (and broken) promise “our organization, Handgun Control, Inc. does not propose further controls on rifles and shotguns. Rifles and shotguns are not the problem; they are not concealable.” (Pete Shields, Guns Don’t Die–People Do, Priam Press, 1981, pp. 47-48).
Currently, the price of guns and ammunition is increased by an 11% federal excise tax, revenues from which go to improve hunting habitat and to fund the development of target ranges. Brady II would increase the taxes to 30% on handguns, and 50% on ammunition. So a $500 pistol would cost $650, and a $20 box of ammunition would cost $30.
The tax revenues, instead of being spent on the shooting sports, would be spent on health care.
Persons Barred from Gun Ownership
The list of persons banned by federallaw from owning any gun would be expanded. A person who got into a bar fight 20 years ago, and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor third-degree assault, would be barred (ex post facto) for the rest of his life from owning any gun. (And subject to a mandatory five years in federal prison for a violation.) Any other crime, no matter, how petty, that involved the use or threatened use of force would likewise become a lifetime prohibition.
Possession of handguns or handgun ammunition by a person under the age of 21, or possession of any guns or ammunition by a person under the age of 16, would be illegal. Leetting one’s 15 year old nephew borrow a single-shot .22 rifle to go target-shooting on one’s own farm would be a federal crime. Gun possession under immediate adult supervsion would still be allowed.
Gun and Magazine Bans
All magazines which hold more than 6 rounds would be outlawed. Possession of existing magazines with a larger capacity would be allowed under the same terms as currently applicable to possession of machine guns: a 10-point FBI fingerprint; an expensive federal tax; and possession only allowed if a letter of authorization from the local police chief is obtained.
“Saturday Night Specials” would be outlawed. They would be defined as:
1. A handgun with any parts made of zinc alloy.
2. Any handgun that uses .22 short ammunition. Many guns that use .22 long rifle can also use .22 short, and would thus be banned.
3. Any revolver with a barrel less than 3 inches.
4. Any semi-automatic pistol with combined height and length of less than 10 inches.
5. Any seme-automatic pistol without a “positive manually operated safety device.”
It would become a federal crime to buy more than one handgun a month.
A permanent 7-day waiting period would be imposed on all handgun transfers (including gifts between family members).
All firearms would have to be “properly stored” is prevent access by anyone under the age of 16.
Gun shows would be destroyed, since licensed firearms dealers would not be allowed to sell guns at the show.
If “Brady II” had become law, what would have been the key to “Brady III” or “Brady IV”? Mrs. Brady has already told us.
She wants a “needs-based licensing” system, under which no one could own any gun unless the local police chief decided that the person “needed” to have the gun. (Erik Eckhom, “A Little Gun Control, a Lot of Guns,” New York Times, Aug. 15, 1993, p. B1).
Ownership of a gun for protection would not be considered a legitimate “need.” Says Mrs. Brady “To me, the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes.” (Tom Jackson, “Keeping the Battle Alive,” Tampa Tribune, Oct. 21, 1993.)
The Brady Campaign’s current rhetoric is much milder, and the group claims not to oppose defensive gun ownership.
Update: Here is a link to the bill itself, H. R. 3932, introduced March 1, 1994, by Rep. Charles Schumer. A parallel bill, S. 1878, was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 28, 1994, by Senator Howard Metzenbaum. It was cosponsored Senators Kennedy, Bradley, Lautenberg, Boxer, Pell, and Chafee.