by Paul Bowers
In the wake of the June 17 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is renewing its push for expanded background checks on gun sales — and it's starting the campaign in Charleston.
The newly formed Charleston Brady Chapter will hold its first meeting Wednesday night at 5:30 p.m. at the Coastal Community Foundation (635 Rutledge Ave., Suite 201). The public is welcome.
"We're going to talk about some things that are coming up and some opportunities to put pressure on elected officials to do something and do it now," says Meghan Trezies, president of the Charleston Brady Chapter. "People are passionately responding to this now because we feel like our voice can really be heard, not only locally but throughout the state and throughout the country."
The Brady Campaign is best known for its advocacy leading up to the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandates that most gun sellers must conduct a federal background check on potential buyers. The Brady Campaign estimates that background checks have prevented more than 2.4 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers, including convicted felons and domestic abusers, since the law took effect in 1994.
But the law has a massive exception: Private sellers are not required to conduct background checks on potential buyers. This is commonly referred to as the "gun show loophole" in gun-control circles, although the loophole also applies to other private sales online and in person.
Several bills have been introduced in Congress to close up the loophole, most recently in 2013 after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The National Rifle Association has dug its heels in against each successive bill, and none have passed.
Now, after the Emanuel shooting, Brady Campaign Regional Organizing Manager John Gruber says his organization is starting a renewed effort to plug the loophole, specifically when it comes to online and gun-show sales. The Brady Campaign recently launched an online petition titled "#IamCharleston: I Demand a Vote!" The local chapter's meeting tonight is titled "Finishing What Rev. Pinckney Began," a reference to the Rev. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Emanuel AME's pastor who died in the shooting.
"Expanding background checks, which is what Brady does and why we're here, it has a chance now," Gruber says. "There's a different type of conversation to be had around it, and Rev. Pinckney tried to do the same thing in 2013 and wasn't able to. So maybe now we can make a difference."
Actually, the bill Pinckney sponsored in 2013 would have required firearms dealers to conduct a personal interview and psychological evaluation of potential buyers before selling assault rifles. Pinckney introduced the bill on April 24, 2013, and it never passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There is no evidence to suggest that a background check could have stopped alleged Emanuel shooter Dylann Roof from obtaining a weapon, as news reports indicate that a family member gave him the gun as a birthday present. Brady Campaign President Dan Gross says the shooting should also prompt parents and family members to use caution in giving young people access to weapons.
"That's not a policy solution; that's a conversation we need to have as a country about risks to kids," Gross says. "As it relates to the policy conversation, we don't think we should base it on the particular circumstances of any one tragedy, no matter how horrific that tragedy is — and this one is horrific. We need to base it on the greatest opportunity to prevent the most possible gun deaths.
"You can simultaneously be heartbroken by this terrible tragedy and also use that to strengthen your resolve to address the 88 gun deaths that happen every single day."