A New – and Old – Plan to Repeal the Brady Instant Registration System

By Dudley Brown

With the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court against the NRA’s suit to destroy Brady names, gun owners across America must reassess their views of the “Brady Check,” which is better termed the Brady Instant Registration Check system.  To do that, we have to remember how we got Brady in the first place.

When Congress first heard of the Brady Bill, most Republicans and many Democrats balked at the idea.  Gun owners in America weren't likely to accept de facto gun registration inherent in a bill that forced firearms purchasers to undergo a background check and created a database.  It was, rightfully so, labeled “registration.”

In fact, prior to 1995, support or opposition to Brady was the number one litmus test issue for every gun owner, organization, and even the NRA.  Anyone claiming to support the Second Amendment was literally required to oppose the Brady bill.  In Colorado, even noted moderate Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Hank Brown maintained opposition to the Brady bill.

Shortly before the 1994 General Election, Brady and Handgun Control, Inc. decided it was time to pass their scheme.  They only had one problem: the U.S. Senate did not have enough votes to shut down a hold (a threatened filibuster) from N.C. Senator Jesse Helms.  A cloture vote -- which shuts down debate and breaks a filibuster -- takes 60 Senators, meaning 41 Senators can stop the legislation.

The NRA knew these numbers quite well and was still publicly opposed to Brady, though many Beltway insiders suggest the NRA was ready to cave at any point.  And cave they did, when HCI essentially ran a lobbying program on the NRA, convincing the “gun lobby” that a Brady law was inevitable.

The bill was dead -- but the NRA cut the deal to resurrect it.

LaPierre's NRA-ILA contacted then-Minority Leader Bob Dole and signaled the NRA's surrender on the issue.  The NRA would accept the "Instant Check" system because Brady was inevitable, and the hold would be removed.  In the Congressional poker game, the NRA folded before anyone even had a chance to assess their hand.

Gun Owners of America (GOA) and a number of real pro-gun organizations told the NRA that this new “Instant Check” system would register gun owners by the millions, giving gun-banners the rope they needed to hang us.  The NRA touted the compromise language as a barrier to registration.  Their lawsuit is an admission that their compromises didn’t work.

Brady's “Instant Check” system, much touted by the NRA to this day, is the reason some states have other forms of gun control.  Virginia, long considered one of America's most pro-gun states, passed a "one-gun-a-month" law (or gun rationing) for one simple reason: the system set up by Brady, implemented in Virginia with NRA assistance, would handle the information.  One-gun-a-month had failed in Virginia in the past, primarily because it was too expensive to implement.  Once the NRA's Brady system was in place, one-gun-a-month was easy and relatively cheap.

With the Supreme Court ruling that the FBI can keep gun owners’ names, what will the NRA now tell us about Brady?  In October of 2000, Charlton Heston wrote in Outdoor Life magazine that the NRA supported expanding Brady to private sales at gun shows.  Wayne LaPierre recently confirmed this stand on a national morning news program.  If the past is any indication, the NRA will point to the Supreme Court ruling, shrug, and go about raising money to “fight gun control.”

Now that we all know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the federal government is keeping a database of gun owners and the prohibition on keeping the names carries no weight, we are back to square one: either repeal Brady, or live with the database it created -- and the inevitable consequences of a database of gun owners, confiscation.  Californians didn’t need us to name that consequence, nor did citizens of Canada, Great Britain, or Australia.

How do we repeal the Brady Instant Registration system?  The answer: the same way we could have stopped Brady in the first place.

First, starting today, every announced, potential, or even likely candidate from dogcatcher to President must be asked a simple question: if ever faced with a vote to repeal the Brady Instant Registration system, how will you vote?

No, there is not going to be a middle ground on this commitment.  And we won’t offer another slick system that supposedly protects the buyer’s identity.  There is no system that routinely checks backgrounds without the opportunity to log citizens’ names.  If the political will exists to put in a system that is better, it likely exists to repeal Brady in its entirety, and go back to prosecuting citizens for real crimes.

Many states have a prohibition of even questioning a citizens’ right.  In Colorado, our Constitution explicitly states “…the right of no person to keep and bear arms… shall be called into question.”  Clearly, the framers of Colorado’s Constitution knew what to tell those who want “reasonable” background checks.  No.

This method -- forcing politicians to take a stand – works, as long as groups like the NRA are not allowed to offer the Neville Chamberlain solution to gun control.  As Winston Churchill put it, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”  Playing that inside game has gotten gun owners nothing, and given the gun banners virtually everything they wanted.  Appeasing – sometimes inaccurately called compromising, since compromise means both parties get something – doesn’t work.  Ask Poland.

This first step isn’t easy: individual activists will have to demand tougher criteria from the gun groups they support.  If your local grassroots circle of gun owners won’t ask that question of politicians – “We can’t make these elected officials uncomfortable or we will lose our access to them” is the usual stated reason to avoid conflict – then the burden falls on you individually.   In Colorado, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners will continue to use this issue as a litmus test for support, but there are few groups who will follow suit.  It is also advisable that you get this commitment in writing, as politicians are adept at denial.  RMGO sends out written surveys to candidates every election cycle, asking tough questions on every issue.  All returned surveys are public, unlike the NRA-ILA’s softball survey program.

Once we determine a politician’s views on the issue, what do we do?  We base our support on that position.

This might seem rather obvious, but consider our history: gun owners have repeatedly proven we will support the “lesser of two evils” every time, a tired cry raised by tyrants who know their position on issues isn’t linked to gun owners’ support.  What’s more upsetting is that the groups supposedly protecting our rights use the same cry to support spineless liberals they so readily protect.  Here’s a newsflash: politicians will never adhere to tough positions when they know it has no bearing on your support.  Pet the puppy after it pees on the carpet, and you’re training the dog to pee on the carpet.  Right now, gun owners have a very dirty carpet.

If gun owners fail to link our support to our public policy goals, we have no one else but ourselves to blame.  We can expect politicians to move away from our positions: as Colorado’s anti-gun Republican Governor Bill Owens said of gun owners, “What are they going to do, vote Democrat?”

How far can politicians go awry if we fail in these two simple, yet crucial tasks?  In the 2000 Colorado elections, a sitting State Representative, who lost his bid for the State Senate, wasn’t willing to sign a pledge to repeal Brady.  That State Representative, now a Republican, was the former Colorado state chairman of the Libertarian Party.

We’ve failed: the Brady Instant Registration system has created the gun owner registration system we all pledged to oppose to the death.  I suggest we re-learn how to draw the line in the sand, and recommit ourselves to battle.

Dudley Brown is Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Colorado’s largest gun rights group.

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