Obituary: James S. Brady / After shooting, he was symbol for gun control


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James S. Brady, the White House press secretary who was wounded in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and then became a symbol of the fight for gun control, championing tighter regulations from his wheelchair, died Monday in Alexandria, Va. He was 73.

Jennifer Fuson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Brady’s organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.

On the afternoon of March 30, 1981, Mr. Brady was struck in a hail of bullets fired by John W. Hinckley Jr., a mentally troubled college dropout who had hoped that shooting the president would impress the actress Jodie Foster, on whom he had a fixation. Mr. Hinckley raised his handgun as Mr. Reagan stepped out of a hotel in Washington after giving a speech.

Mr. Reagan, a couple of paces from his limousine, was hit, as were a Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia police officer. But it was Mr. Brady, shot in the head, who was the most seriously injured. The bullet damaged the right section of his brain, paralyzing his left arm, weakening his left leg, damaging his short-term memory and impairing his speech. Just getting out of a car became a study in determination.

“What I was, I am not now,” Mr. Brady said in 1994. “What I was, I will never be again.”

What Mr. Brady became was an advocate of tough restrictions on the sale of handguns like the $29 pawnshop special that Mr. Hinckley had bought with false identification. “I wouldn’t be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation,” Mr. Brady said in 2011.

Mr. Brady and his wife, Sarah, campaigned for a bill that Congress passed 12 years after the shooting. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, as it was known, ushered in background checks and waiting periods for many gun buyers.

The Bradys also pressed for the restoration of a federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004.

They issued statements calling for renewed restrictions after episodes such as the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Last year, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York pushed a gun-control bill through the state Legislature, the Bradys appeared in a commercial thanking Mr. Cuomo. Ms. Brady said they had been asked to record the commercial by Mr. Cuomo’s sister, Maria Cuomo Cole, a friend of hers.

Mr. Brady returned to the White House occasionally. He spoke briefly with President Barack Obama — whom he had endorsed in 2008 — in 2011 on the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt. Mr. Brady wore a blue bracelet with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ name on it and told reporters that he had shown it to the president. Ms. Giffords had been wounded a few weeks earlier in a shooting in Tucson that left six people dead and 12 others injured.

Ms. Brady said the president agreed with “everything that we are for,” but that he told them the process in Washington took time. She said Mr. Brady told the president, “It takes two years to make Minute Rice.”

The Bradys later sent recommendations to a White House task force on preventing gun violence, calling for universal background checks. They also recommended safety programs for the nation’s gun owners.

After 32 people were killed in shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, the Bradys supported a bill that closed a loophole that had allowed the gunman to buy weapons even though he had earlier been committed to a mental hospital. President George W. Bush signed the measure into law in January 2008.

In the 1990s, when he was pressing for the Brady bill, Mr. Brady dismissed as “lamebrain nonsense” the National Rifle Association’s contention that a waiting period would inconvenience law-abiding people who had reason to buy a gun. The idea behind the waiting period was to give the seller time to check on whether the prospective purchaser had a criminal record or had lied in supplying information on the required documents.

As the Bradys worked the phones, opposition to the bill softened in Congress in the wake of a surge in gun-related violence across the nation. On Nov. 30, 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the Brady bill into law, with Mr. Brady at his side in a wheelchair.


First Published August 4, 2014 12:00 AM


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