James Brady Remembered

James Brady died today. He was 73.

Thirty-three years and then some since he was grievously wounded, on March 30, 1981, in an assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan, whom Brady had served as press secretary only since January, he passed away in Alexandria, Virginia.

The shootings gave rise to a family cause, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, with his wife Sarah, and eventually a new law, the “Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act,” signed by President Bill Clinton on Nov. 30, 1993. “The enactment of the Brady law changed the existing “lie-and-buy” system to a “background check-then-buy” system by requiring that every sale of a gun by a licensed dealer be referred to law enforcement for a background check,” the center says.

The background checks themselves have been streamlined to a nearly instantaneous screening by phone and computers. CNN explains: “Once you have decided to purchase a gun from a retail outlet — it could be a local gun shop or national chain such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabelas or Walmart — the store enters your name and information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, via a toll-free number or the Internet, to check the eligibility of the buyer.”

Since the FBI got the national center up and running, it has approved more than 100 million weapons purchases — and denied about 2 percent.

Following the December 2012 killing of 20 schoolchildren and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, the White House of President Barack Obama initiated a push for several additional gun-safety measures. A couple of senators, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania,  offered a bipartisan plan to expand background checks to include firearms purchased at a gun show or on the Internet. The bill failed for lack of support in the Senate.

“Can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?” Obama asked at a prayer vigil for the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School. “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?”

“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?” he asked. “I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough.”

(Updated at 4:20 pm EDT: )

Yet in remarking on Brady’s passing in a statement issued by the White House today, Obama noted the benefit of the 2 million firearms which have been kept out of criminal hands thanks to the Brady Act:

“ Jim is a legend at the White House for his warmth and professionalism as press secretary for President Reagan, for the strength he brought to bear in recovering from the shooting that nearly killed him 33 years ago; and for turning the events of that terrible afternoon into a remarkable legacy of service through the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violenc,” Obama said. “Since 1993, the law that bears Jim’s name has kept guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.  An untold number of people are alive today who otherwise wouldn’t be, thanks to Jim.”

As in many public shootings, John Hinckley’s shots at Reagan and Brady revealed a deeply disturbed perpetrator. Found not guilty by reason of insanity, he has spent decades at a Washington mental hospital, though in recent years has been granted lengthened visits to his mother’s home in Williamsburg, Virginia. The deranged Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, killed his mother and himself.

Much has been in made, in the unending debate over gun control, about the underlying problem of mental health — yet nothing of great substance has been done about that, or the connection between mental stability and access to firearms.

Today, the press briefing room where the president meets the press is named for the late James Brady. That honor occurred on President George W. Bush’s watch when the room was remodeled at great public expense. On Obama’s watch, Brady returned there to see what was built in his name — wheeled into the room, he had struggled with lifelong impairment from the bullet through his brain.

Yet the threat to the presidency and public alike from unspeakable gun violence is no less than it was in March of 1981. A virtual army of Secret Service protection has amassed around the president, but not the public.



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