In 1991, Ronald Reagan Publicly Supported A Sweeping Gun Control Bill

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In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan wrote a New York Times op-ed in support of the Brady Bill.

In a March 29, 1991 editorial for the New York Times, former President Ronald Reagan made his case in support of sweeping gun legislation - the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, known as the Brady Bill and named for Reagan's press secretary who was shot alongside him in 1981.

Present in Reagan's argument but missing from many conservative stances today is the fact that any reduction in gun-related deaths is meaningful, and the former president did not insist that 2nd Amendment rights trump every thoughtful argument for gun control.

One might be tempted to think that Reagan's position on firearm regulations was inspired by his own shooting, but even as governor of California, Reagan understood that not everyone should have access to guns and it is imperative that society have proper checks in place to ensure guns are falling into as few wrong hands as possible.

[F]our lives were changed forever, and all by a Saturday-night special -- a cheaply made .22 caliber pistol -- purchased in a Dallas pawnshop by a young man with a history of mental disturbance.

This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now -- the Brady bill -- had been law back in 1981.

Reagan rightly acknowledges that federal law in 1991 already prohibited gun sales to certain Americans, but he also rightly proclaims that enforcement of those laws is key:

While there has been a Federal law on the books for more than 20 years that prohibits the sale of firearms to felons, fugitives, drug addicts and the mentally ill, it has no enforcement mechanism and basically works on the honor system, with the purchaser filling out a statement that the gun dealer sticks in a drawer.

The Brady Bill, in Reagan's eyes, was part of the solution to common sense gun reform in the United States - a country where, at the time, over 9,000 people a year were murdered with firearms.

The Brady bill would require the handgun dealer to provide a copy of the prospective purchaser's sworn statement to local law enforcement authorities so that background checks could be made. Based upon the evidence in states that already have handgun purchase waiting periods, this bill -- on a nationwide scale -- can't help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases.

And, since many handguns are acquired in the heat of passion (to settle a quarrel, for example) or at times of depression brought on by potential suicide, the Brady bill would provide a cooling-off period that would certainly have the effect of reducing the number of handgun deaths.

Reagan understood that prevention is key - not waiting around to see how many 'good guys with a gun' turn out to be bad guys after all.

California, which has a 15-day waiting period that I supported and signed into law while Governor, stopped nearly 1,800 prohibited handgun sales in 1989. New Jersey has had a permit-to-purchase system for more than two decades. During that time, according to the state police, more than 10,000 convicted felons have been caught trying to buy handguns.

Unlike many Republicans today, whether they have truly bought into the notion that American needs more guns or are simply after campaign funding from the NRA, Reagan understood that something must be done about America's gun problem.

And that something necessarily involved shifting how the U.S. thinks about purchasing guns.

This level of violence must be stopped. Sarah and Jim Brady are working hard to do that, and I say more power to them. If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.

And there would be a lot fewer families facing anniversaries such as the Bradys, Delahantys, McCarthys and Reagans face every March 30.

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