On March 30, 1981, White House press secretary James Brady was shot along with President Ronald Reagan, a police officer and a Secret Service agent by would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr.
Brady, who was partially paralyzed after taking a bullet to his head, died last Monday at 73. But getting shot wasn’t the end of the story for Brady. Though the bullet damaged the right side of his brain, he devoted his life to advancing legislation that would result in stricter gun controls.
Brady and his wife, Sarah, were frustrated by the weak background checks that had made it possible for Hinckley, a mentally troubled college dropout, to buy a gun for $29 from a pawnshop while using fake identification.
In 1994, a dozen years of lobbying and building a movement dedicated to sensible gun limits finally paid off. Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that tightened background checks and required waiting periods for some gun buyers. President Bill Clinton signed it enthusiastically.
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The passage of the Brady Bill was a defeat for the National Rifle Association, which claimed waiting periods and stricter background checks somehow violated the Second Amendment. Fortunately, most Americans appreciated the common sense nature of the law and supported it overwhelmingly.
The Bradys continued to lobby for gun control legislation but lost more battles than they won as Congress became more submissive to the NRA. Lawmakers did not reauthorize the ban on assault weapons in 2004 or tighten access to assault guns or large ammo clips after high-profile massacres.
James Brady’s greatest accomplishment was struggling through his impairments to allow himself to become a symbol of a movement that continues to oppose the lethal weapons and weak laws that still take a toll on innocent Americans.