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Gun reformers lobby to finish the job on background checks

Advocates and organizations pushing for tighter restrictions on gun sales took to the halls on Capitol Hill Wednesday urging leaders to "finish the job."
Politicians Join Gun Control Advocates On 20th Anniversary Of Brady Bill
Sarah Brady, chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, speaks at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the Brady Bill at the U.S. Capitol on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Gun control advocates and activists this month are calling on Congress to step up and finish what it started.

"It comes down to three words: 'Finish the job,'" Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said at a press conference. The event marked the final hours of a three-day conference dedicated to pressing elected officials to revive legislation to expand background checks on gun sales.

The Brady Campaign 2013 National Summit, which began Monday in Washington, D.C., brought together hundreds of organizations, advocates, and activists to learn ways to engage friends, neighbors, and elected officials in resurfacing the national gun debate. They spent the final day lobbying on Capitol Hill to influence elected officials to "finish the job."

Related: Americans still divided on gun-control legislation

Individuals who have lost relatives or friends to bullets stood behind the podium holding signs encouraging leaders to pass stricter legislation.

"Our American dream became the American nightmare when a 21-year-old drove through the neighborhood," said Sherilyn Byrdsong, whose husband Ricky was fatally shot outside his Illinois home on July 2, 1999. "This killer shot him down as if he were a wild animal, right before our kids’ very eyes.”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the government's signing of the Brady Bill. Jim Brady, the then-press secretary to former President Ronald Reagan, was shot and seriously wounded in 1981 during an assassination attempt on the commander-in-chief. Brady and his wife, Sarah, consequently joined the fight for sensible gun-control laws.

The Brady Bill, which requires a five-day waiting period and background checks on handgun purchases, was signed into law on Nov. 20, 1993 after a seven-year battle to gain support.

"It is and can be a long process," Sarah Brady, chairwoman of the Brady Campaign whose efforts helped pass the bill, told the audience. "I want you to not get discouraged at all. Just remember seven years and you're going to do it quicker. Beat my record.”

The Senate failed in April to pass a bipartisan background checks bill.

"I'm ashamed to be here to face all of you [and] not have finished the job yet," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. "We must be relentless in how we pursue this, how we protect and defend the American people."

The Brady Bill does not apply to about 40% of gun sales that occur each day, Gross said. About 30,000 Americans die each year and 90 each day as a result of guns.

"[But] this isn’t a question of one and done. We're not going anywhere, Brady isn’t going anywhere," he said. "We are doubling down on our efforts with the continuing momentum we have to finish the job.”

Almost half—49%—of the country believe legislation should be “more strict,” according to a recent Gallup poll. Thirty-seven percent think the laws should be “kept as now,” and 13% want “less strict” laws. Public support for stricter gun laws was at 58% in the days after the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"Nobody's political career," Pelosi said, "is more important than protecting the American people."