ARCHIVAL (CNN, 2-14-18):
JAKE TAPPER: Scenes of panic outside the school this afternoon.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 2-14-18):
JEFF GLOR: An unbelievably catastrophic day. Seventeen are dead.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 2-17-2018):
EMMA GONZALEZ (STUDENT): Politicians who sit in their senate seats funded by the N.R.A. telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this — we call B.S.
NARRATION: The student-led protest following the Parkland shooting promised to change the gun debate.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 2-17-2018):
EMMA GONZALEZ (STUDENT): We will not stop until we get gun control.
NARRATION: But whether this moment signals a new era may depend on remembering another fight over gun control three decades before — one that also began with a horrific shooting.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 3-30-81):
REPORTER: The White House has confirmed now just in the last few minutes that President Reagan has indeed been shot.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 3-30-81):
NEWS REPORT: We understand also that James Brady, the White House press secretary, was among those injured.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 3-30-81):
LARRY SPEAKES (ACTING PRESS SECRETARY): The president has a gunshot wound in the left side of the chest. He is in stable condition. Jim Brady has been shot, it is a head wound. We have no information on his condition.
NARRATION: The attempted assassination of President Reagan occurred at a time when gun violence seemed inevitable and out of control.
ARCHIVAL (GUN CONTROL ADVOCACY FILM, 1980):
THE AMERICAN HANDGUN WAR: Month after month, year after bloody year, it continues. There is a one-in-five chance you or a member of your family will be attacked or threatened by someone with a handgun.
NARRATION: The National Rifle Association stood in opposition to strengthening existing gun laws.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 4-1-81):
JOHN AQUILINO, N.R.A.: Gun control really is a waste of taxpayers’ time and a diversion of efforts that should be put elsewhere in very productive pursuits.
NARRATION: Then, just four years after the shooting of Jim Brady, his wife, Sarah, saw that the N.R.A. was pressuring Congress to make it easier to own and sell firearms.
GAIL HOFFMAN (ADVISER TO GAIL BRADY): Sarah was shocked when she learned that the N.R.A. was going to be trying to weaken the country’s existing gun laws. It was clear that the laws needed to be stronger, not weaker. She picked up the phone and she called the N.R.A. and she said, ‘You’re going to have to contend with me.’”
NARRATION: In 1987, working with gun control advocate Gail Hoffman, Sarah Brady began a campaign for background checks to make it harder for guns to fall into the hands of felons and others already prohibited from owning them.
The bill’s proposed weeklong waiting period will give the police time — time to run background checks on handgun purchasers to reduce the number of persons with a history of criminal activity or mental illness who buy handguns over the counter every year.
NARRATION: They called it the Brady Bill.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 06-16-87):
SARAH BRADY: I firmly believe that if a reasonable waiting period and provision for background checks had been in effect when John Hinckley walked into that Dallas pawnshop, my husband, Jim, would be spending his days pursuing a successful career and in his spare time, climbing trees with our eight year old, rather than in hours of painful and rigorous physical therapy.
GAIL HOFFMAN: We had the Republicans and the Democrats against us when we first began this fight. My own congressman, then Barney Frank, not too soon after, wrote an editorial that liberals needed to abandon gun control. People were not willing to touch the bill with a 10-foot pole.
RICHARD FELDMAN (FORMER REGIONAL POLITICAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION): I ran N.R.A.’s grassroots efforts in 1991 against the Brady Bill. One of the things we told members was that this was, as the proponents claimed, just a first step.
ARCHIVAL (NRA ADVOCACY FILM, 1991):
TED KOPPEL: Is the Brady Bill then merely the first step?
GUEST: It is only the first step.
GUEST: This is only the first step.
CHARLES SCHUMER: The first step.
TIM RUSSERT: This is the first step.
CHARLES SCHUMER: Well, I think the Brady Bill is a good step. It may not be the end, there may be other things that will happen later.
RICHARD FELDMAN: Charlie Schumer said all the time, ‘This is a first good step.’ Well, if this the first good step, better to prevent the first good step than have to fight over the last bad step. We sent out messages into districts where a congressman was wavering. When you start getting, you know, 3,000 phone calls and no other work can be achieved, you know, you get the message that these people are going to be around in November.
NARRATION: But the Bradys had their own message.
GAIL HOFFMAN: We were not gun-grabbers. Jim owned guns. Sarah grew up around guns. My husband’s family in Tennessee, whenever we’d visit them we’d go shooting. We made very clear to members of Congress that we did not support a ban on handguns. We didn’t support a ban on long guns. This is about making sure that bad guys don’t get them.
NARRATION: The Brady Bill’s focus — passing a background check — seemed a reasonable measure to many organizations that had long supported the N.R.A. — including law enforcement.
ARCHIVAL (CSPAN, 11-21-1989):
JOHN DINEEN (PRESIDENT, FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE, ILLINOIS): Mr. Chairman, how many more police officers need to be killed before this government decides to get serious about this problem? How many more citizens have to be maimed? How many more body bags need to be filled before all of us say, enough is enough?
ARCHIVAL (CSPAN, 11-21-89):
PAUL SIMON (SENATOR): Very, very pleased to have both of you as witnesses here and an unusual bit of testimony here today. Jim Brady.
GAIL HOFFMAN: Just by seeing him and seeing what had happened to him, they saw right before them the results of a gun in the wrong hands without a background check.
ARCHIVAL (CSPAN, 11-21-89):
JAMES BRADY: There are some who oppose this simple seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases because it would inconvenience gun dealers. Well I guess I am paying for their in- their convenience. I don’t question the rights of responsible gun owners. That’s not the issue. The issues is whether the John Hinckleys of the world should be able to walk into a gun store and purchase a handgun instantly.
GAIL HOFFMAN: It was very difficult for members of Congress to say, ‘Yes, I believe a convicted felon should be able to walk into a gun store and walk about with a handgun.’
NARRATION: After nearly seven years of congressional battles the Brady Bill was signed into law.
RICHARD FELDMAN: The Brady Campaign did a very good job of selling the bill, and over time it didn’t seem like such an imposition on gun owners, so much so that even though when I was still at N.R.A., we opposed it, by the time I got to the industry, I could see a lot of good things coming out of the Brady Bill.
NARRATION: The following year, the N.R.A. suffered a second defeat when Congress passed the assault weapons ban, which outlawed several kinds of semi-automatic rifles and high capacity magazines.
GAIL HOFFMAN: People were euphoric. And they thought that anything could be done. That the N.R.A. could be defeated and they move forward with legislative packages that went way beyond what anybody had been talking about in the past and really didn’t have a snowball’s chance. The N.R.A. was able to jump on this, and they were able to go back to members of Congress and say, ‘See, this is what they wanted all along. They wanted, you know, to chip away at all these gun rights.’”
NARRATION: For the N.R.A., the losses became a rallying cry.
ARCHIVAL (CSPAN, 05-03-1997):
NEAL KNOX (N.R.A.): We haven’t been winning on Capitol Hill. Is the Brady Bill a win? Armor-piercing bullet ban a win? Is a ban on gun ownership for people convicted of minor domestic violence misdemeanors a win? If that’s winning, what we call losing? Ninety-seven to two the Senate of the United States voted for that domestic violence gun ban. Tragedy. We’ve got to start winning and we must win consistently we must stop the erosion of the Second Amendment.
RICHARD FELDMAN: When the gun rights community was looking down the barrel — pun intended — of those two losses, they doubled down.
CHARLTON HESTON: As we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words, from my cold dead hands!
RICHARD FELDMAN: And what was the result? All the wins in the latter part of the 1990s right into the 2000s, right till now.
NARRATION: It’s been almost twenty-five years since the Brady Bill became law, and with the assault weapons ban allowed to lapse, it remains the last major piece of federal gun control legislation passed in the United States.
GAIL HOFFMAN: If we gave up after our loss the first time on the Brady Bill, I can’t even imagine, you know, what would have happened.
STUDENTS AT NEW YORK CITY PROTEST: Joaquin Oliver. Joaquin went by the nickname Guac and was interested in football, basketball and hip hop. This one is for Joaquin.
GAIL HOFFMAN: There is a responsible middle. And that is what is critical even today. That people understand that nobody is, going to take guns away from law-abiding citizens.
RICHARD FELDMAN: Guns are a symbol of so many other things. Positive, negative, but they are symbols. Gun owners see a picture of a gun and they see all sorts of positive American values: freedom, independence, interdependence. When anti-gun people see the same gun, they see dissolution in the streets, shootings in our schools, all sorts of negative things. So, we’re two societies coming at the gun issue with completely different orientations, and it almost prevents us from day one having an intelligent conversation about what the problem is, what the issues are, and what the potential solutions could be.