At Twenty Years Old, Landmark Gun Law Weathers New World

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act turns twenty years old on Friday. The law made background checks a requirement for gun purchases for licensed dealers. A lot has changed in two decades.

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Twenty years ago today, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act went into effect, that law pushed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The organization says since then more than two million gun purchases have been blocked by background checks, but as NPR's Allison Keyes reports, advocates also use this anniversary to warn about the law's loopholes.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: On Capitol Hill today, victims of gun violence walked up to the microphone holding pictures of lost loved ones and told their stories. Alex Facilli(ph) was among them.

ALEX FACILLI: I am here on behalf of my sister, who got killed by a stalker who purchased a gun on the Internet without any kind of background check.

KEYES: The Brady Campaign is named for Jim Brady, the press secretary for President Ronald Reagan who was partially paralyzed during the 1981 assassination attempt on the president. Brady Campaign President Dan Gross told reporters a study shows the 1994 law, which passed after a seven-year battle, has blocked a lot of felons, domestic abusers and fugitives from buying guns. But now, he says, there are loopholes.

DAN GROSS: This includes gun shows, which have basically become mega-malls filled with unlicensed gun sellers not covered by the Brady law, and significantly, and to many most alarmingly, it includes the Internet.

KEYES: But the organization and lawmakers like Democratic California Rep. Mike Thompson point to a climate where mass shootings have happened everywhere from movie theaters to schools. Thompson says thousands of people have been killed by firearms since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and he wants Congress to pass his bill expanding background checks.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE THOMPSON: It doesn't take anybody's guns away. It just requires that people who purchase a firearm through a commercial sale have to have a background check.

KEYES: The National Rifle Association takes issue with the Brady Campaign's statement that 40 percent of gun purchases are made without background checks at gun shows or online. The NRA says only four percent of gun owners get their guns from gun shows and flea markets, and it says guns can be advertised on the Internet, but such sales must involve a dealer or an in-person pickup.

According to a December New York Times study looking at gun policy since Sandy Hook, 1,500 state gun bills were proposed; 109 became law, and 70 of those loosened existing gun legislation. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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