Bill Clinton, Dede Gardner Discuss Importance of Gun Safety at Brady Center's Bear Awards

Alex J. Berliner/ABImages
Bill Clinton

The former President took the stage alongside producer Gardner and philanthropist David Bohnett.

As Hillary Clinton looks ahead and strategizes for an impending showdown with Donald Trump in the presidential general election, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, reminisced on Wednesday night about a time when he faced off with pro-gun lobbyists and signed the Brady Bill into law. 

Standing at the podium inside the Four Seasons Los Angeles' main ballroom during the Brady Campaign's annual Bear Awards, Clinton recalled the history-making events that led up to Nov. 30, 1993, when he signed the bill, capping a seven-year-long battle. The Brady Bill required a five-day waiting period and background checks on all handgun purchases at federally licensed firearm dealers. For that show of support and his ongoing commitment to the Brady Center cause, Clinton accepted the James Brady Leadership Award, but graciously said that he wished he could return it to the organization and its many supporters. 

"I don't really deserve this award because I couldn't do anything other than what I did," said Clinton, whose comments — clocking in at more than 26 minutes — were book-ended by standing ovations. "I'm grateful that I had the chance to sign the Brady Bill. ... You will never know what some of these children [whose lives were lost] might've made with their lives. And you will never know whether the young people who made something great of their lives were spared because of the Brady law and the assault weapons ban [thanks to] the efforts that good people made to give them space to have the decent life chance that we have all enjoyed."

Clinton, 69, headlined the night's three Bear Awards honorees, standing up alongside Oscar-winning producer Dede Gardner, co-president of Plan B Entertainment, and philanthropist and technology entrepreneur David Bohnett. Filmmaker Adam McKay, who recently won an Oscar for writing The Big Short, served as host alongside Gardner's (absent) longtime producing partner Brad Pitt. Sports journalist Rich Eisen emceed the event's program, which delivered a rollercoaster of emotions for the capacity crowd.

Those in attendance included: Will Ferrell and wife Viveca Paulin, Jenna Fischer, Sarah Silverman, Michael Sheen, Rainn Wilson and wife Holiday Reinhorn, Colin Hanks and wife Samantha Bryant, Clark Gregg and wife Jennifer Grey, Judy Greer, Linda Cardellini, Demetri Martin, Mike White, Mae Whitman, Jamie Tarses, Liza Chasin, Suzy Shuster, Jennifer Todd, Chris Messina, Pam Abdy, David Unger, Tom Lassally and wife Romi Lassally and Los Angeles officials including Mayor Eric Garcetti and wife Amy Wakeland and LAPD chief Charlie Beck and wife Cindy. 

The Bear Awards are hosted annually by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and named in honor of Jim "Bear" Brady, the former White House Press Secretary who served under President Ronald Reagan. Brady became wounded when he was shot by gunman John W. Hinckley Jr. on March 30, 1981, in an assassination attempt on Reagan's life. He and wife Sarah Brady would dedicate the rest of their lives to the prevention of gun violence. (Jim passed away at age 73 on Aug. 4, 2014; Sarah passed away, also at age 73, on April 3, 2015.)

Why the roller coaster? There were horror stories about the real-life fallout from gun-related tragedies delivered by Sandra Wortham (who lost her brother in a Chicago shooting), Farid Naib (who lost his 13-year-old son to suicide) and Tom Mauser (who lost his son in the Columbine tragedy). Comedians Silverman and Martin brought levity with stand-up sets that had the audience either rolling with laughter or gasping in faux-offense. "Gun violence is the perfect opener for any comedian," Martin quipped. Paulin also led a lively, and short, live auction featuring only three items. One of those items — an 18-carat gold Tiffany & Co. bracelet — was modeled with a smile by onetime Bear Award honoree and powerhouse lawyer Laura Wasser.

Brady Campaign president Dan Gross (left) poses with filmmaker Adam McKay and honoree Dede Gardner as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence hosts the Brady Bear Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles on May 4, 2016. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

Then there were the honorees, who each humbly offered thanks for their share of the night's spotlight and closed in offering possible solutions for America's gun epidemic. Also, Brady Campaign president Dan Gross delivered the staggering statistics in a speech in which he promised to "keep it real." (Example: 90 people die from gun violence every day.) He also addressed Hollywood by saying that though he runs a nonprofit, he is not naive to how business works. Gross said he realizes that the industry won't remove guns completely from the stories, but he encouraged writers, directors, producers and executives to have a dialogue and use their power for positive social change.

As for what his organization is doing, Gross added, "Five percent of gun dealers in the U.S. sell 90 percent of crime guns and people are dying as a result. Brady has declared war on these bad apples. First, we are suing the bastards and making it bad for their business to sell to criminals."

It was Gross who teamed with Brady Campaign board chair Kevin Quinn to introduce Clinton. "No other president has done more to curb gun violence," Gross explained. 

But Clinton countered that he wasn't the only one who deserved credit, and then, like his wife, encouraged voters to look to the future. "I'm up here getting this award today, not for giving speeches, but for saving lives because I had a Congress with the courage to do this and at least a dozen of them gave up their seats so we could save some more lives. They are the ones who should be honored, and we should elect more people like them," said Clinton, mentioning the importance of all elections, not just presidential ones. "This is a big country and it breaks my heart to see it as divided as we are. ... We keep getting in each other's way."

McKay and Gardner never got in each other's way. The two, who collaborated on The Big Short, which McKay directed and Gardner produced, shared the stage when he presented her with her Bear Award honor. In doing so, the filmmaker praised Gardner as a "humble and amazing and tenacious person" before saying "she's a tough son of a bitch." (McKay then apologized to her mother, who was in attendance.)

McKay credited Gardner with making thoughtful movies, like 12 Years a Slave and Selma. Fittingly, Gardner delivered a speech that was careful, considerate and solution-based. Even if she didn't seem entirely comfortable with so many eyes on her. "I'm someone who has very deliberately chosen a life behind the camera, so I don't do this easily or comfortably," she explained. 

Gardner then offered that, in addition to "changing the laws and the loopholes and the lobbies," she has an idea — one that would signal a shift in personal attitudes, perspectives and the layers in communities across the U.S. "The thing that I keep thinking about is how to get to the beginning. How to get to the beginning of abuse. How to get to the beginning of bigotry. How to get to the beginning of degradation. How to get to the beginning of marginalization. How to get to the beginning of lonely. How to get to the beginning of sorrow. I think we've forgotten the power of witness," she said. "We turn our heads away from discomfort, and that with the slightest turn back into the face of despair — faces of despair — then maybe a woman in a ferociously dangerously armed household, rather than feeling ashamed, announces to this new community, 'I am scared. I have fear. Will you help me?'"

The producer continued that citizens could unite, celebrate differences and stand up to the hostage situation that is crippling the country. "We are being held hostage by the people we elect," Gardner added. But if "we take back the origin of our narrative and re-root ourselves and our communities in one another ... we reject — as a singlewide coast-to-coast community — the fear mongering that is so devastatingly dividing and killing us. Then we have a shot," she closed. 

Following Gardner's speech, Garcetti took to the stage to present Bohnett with the award. The longtime Brady Campaign supporter serves as the chair of the David Bohnett Foundation and has donated more than $85 million to such causes as the Brady Center, the Wildlife Alliance, the ACLU, Equality California and the Bohnett Gay & Lesbian Leadership Fellows program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

"If money could solve the problem, through the support of groups like the Brady Center and others, then the problem would have been solved long ago," Bohnett said in his speech.

He offered a three-pronged solution: Hold Washington leaders much more accountable, actively stigmatize the portrayal of gun violence in our mainstream media and address the desperate conditions in society that lead people to reach for guns in the first place, including poverty. 

"We can reduce the number of deaths from gun violence, we have the means and the tools — now it's our unwavering responsibility to act," said Bohnett. 

Former President Bill Clinton poses with Jenna Fischer as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence hosts the Brady Bear Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles on May 4, 2016. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

Sarah Silverman performs a comedy set as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence hosts the Brady Bear Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles on May 4, 2016. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)
Will Ferrell and wife Viveca Paulin show their support as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence hosts the Brady Bear Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles on May 4, 2016. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)