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Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Further Readings

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and its sister organization the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence are dedicated to reducing gun deaths and injuries through education, legislative reform, and litigation. The history of the organizations can be traced back to 1974 when Dr. Mark Borinsky, a victim of gun violence, established Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI), a grassroots organization. Borinsky's goal was to create common sense gun laws. He was joined in 1975 by Nelson "Pete" Shields, who had lost a son to a serial killer. In 1983, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (CPHV) was formed by Shields to focus on education and research in GUN CONTROL while the HCI remained a LOBBYING group.

In 1985, current chairperson Sarah Brady joined the group after her husband, Jim Brady, was shot and seriously wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt on President RONALD REAGAN. In 2001, Handgun Control was renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence was renamed the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. According to the Brady Campaign website, its mission remains the same: to "work to enact and enforce sensible gun laws, regulations and public policies through grassroots activism, electing pro-gun control public officials and increasing public awareness of gun violence."

The legal arm of the Brady Center is the Legal Action Project (LAP). Its goal is to "represent gun violence victims and the public interest in the courts." For example, LAP provides free legal assistance to victims in lawsuits against gun manufacturers, dealers, and owners. And it pushes for legislation that will force the gun industry to improve the safety in gun design and to change negligent methods of marketing, sales, and distribution. Until LAP became involved in several landmark civil cases gun makers and sellers were not held responsible for gun-related deaths and injuries. The logic was that only the individual shooter was responsible.

In Merrill v. Navegar, Inc., 89 Cal.Rptr.2d. 146 (Cal. App. 1999), LAP helped obtain the first appellate court decision to hold that a gun manufacturer can be held liable for its NEGLIGENCE in designing and selling a gun for use in crime, and promoting it so that it would appeal to individuals with violent intentions. On July 1, 1993, Gian Luigi Ferri entered a high rise office building in San Francisco, California, with two semi-automatic assault weapons manufactured and sold by Navegar, Inc., plus one other gun. He opened fire in the hallways and offices of the lower floors of the building, killing eight people and wounding six others before he shot and killed himself.

The survivors and relatives of the deceased brought suit against Navegar, Inc., on three legal theories: COMMON LAW negligence, negligence per se, and STRICT LIABILITY for engaging in an ultra hazardous activity. The trial court dismissed the case, holding that the victims could not sue the gun manufacturer for the actions of the gunman Ferri.

The case was then brought before the Court of Appeals of California. The court reversed on the single issue of common law negligence. Judge J. Anthony Kline, writing for the court, held that, "Fundamental fairness requires that those who create and profit from commerce in a potentially dangerous instrumentality should be liable for conduct that unreasonably increases the risk of injury above and beyond that necessarily presented by their enterprise." The court referred to Navegar's manufacture and marketing of the TEC-9 semi-automatic weapons used in the killings. It found that the gun had no legitimate civilian purpose; it was a weapon designed solely for the efficient killing of large numbers of people. The court also held that the TEC-9 was advertised in a manner to appeal to persons with violent or criminal tendencies. Navegar advertised the TEC-9 as being "tough as your toughest customer," "paramilitary," and providing "excellent resistance to fingerprints."

In August 2001, Navegar appealed to the Supreme Court of California to reverse the decision of the appellate court. The court ruled in favor of the gun manufacturer, but declined to address the broader issues concerning negligent business practices of the gun industry. Instead, the court pointed to a state statute that precluded the particular type of claim brought against the gun manufacturer. In response to this ruling, the California Legislature, in September 2002, became the first state to repeal a statute that gave special legal IMMUNITY to the gun industry. The repeal was part of a group of far-reaching gun laws that were passed by the California Assembly and signed by Governor Gray Davis.

In addition to supporting negligence lawsuits against gun manufacturers, the Brady Center attempts to ensure that gun legislation is fairly interpreted. An example is United States v. Emerson, 46 F. Supp. 2d 598 (N.D.Tex.1999). Timothy Joe Emerson was under a domestic RESTRAINING ORDER, which prohibited him from coming into contact with his estranged wife and her daughter. As such, he was not allowed to posses a firearm, since federal law 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8) prohibits firearm possession while under a civil protective order. Emerson was indicted for violation of the law when he allegedly waved a weapon in front of his wife, and then threatened to shoot his wife and her boyfriend. The federal judge dismissed the indictment against Emerson because it violated the "right to bear arms" provision of the SECOND AMENDMENT.

The United States appealed the decision and the center filed an AMICUS CURIAE brief in support of the government's position. In October 2001, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling. In February 2002, Emerson petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear the case.

The Brady Center is also integral in shaping new gun policy. Perhaps its biggest success came with the 1993 passage of the Brady Bill, which went into effect on February 28, 1994. The law requires a background check on any individual who attempts to purchase a handgun and a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases. In 1998, the law was extended to included long guns (i.e., rifles and shotguns). In 2001, the Brady Center announced that in the eight years since the law was in effect, gun deaths in the United States dropped from 39,595 in 1993 to 28,874 in 1999, a 27 percent decline.

With the election of GEORGE W. BUSH as president in 2002, and the gain of Republican seats in both the House and Senate in 2002, opponents of gun control gained ground. In early 2003, legislation to give the gun industry legal immunity from lawsuits brought by the victims of gun violence was introduced in Congress. The Brady Campaign and the Brady Center were at the center of the debate, fighting to prevent the "weakening of our nation's gun laws."

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