What was the law? First, let's look at the man.
He was born and raised in Centralia, Ill. He went to the University of Illinois where he majored in communications and political science, and did an internship with Sen. Everett Dirkson, the minority leader of the U. S. Senate.
After graduating from college in 1962, he first turned his attention to the corporate world. He became assistant sales manager at an aerospace company. Then he took over as director of public affairs for the Illinois Medical Society. He went from there to a Chicago political consulting firm; and then from 1969 - 1973 he was executive vice president of an advertising and public relations agency.
In 1973 he moved to Washington, DC, and started climbing his way up the political ladder. He worked for the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, then the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and then the Secretary of Defense. In 1977 he joined the staff of Sen. William Roth (R) of Delaware.
|The room named in his honor|
In January 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed him White House Press Secretary. This job made him the main point man for the news media, and his face soon became a familiar fixture on television. However, his service was cut short on March 30, 1981, when he accompanied President Reagan to the Washington Hilton Hotel for a speech to a group from the AFL-CIO.
As the president's party left the hotel, shots rang out. A man named John Hinckley, attempting to assassinate Ronald Reagan, fired a Rohm RD-14 .22 long rifle blue steel revolver. He got off six shots in 1.7 seconds. Two secret servicemen were hit. Reagan took a bullet in the chest that had ricocheted off the side of his armored limousine. And his press secretary, James Brady, was shot once in the head.
The two secret servicemen both recovered from their wounds. And as we all know, Reagan was brought to the hospital, where the bullet was removed as he joked to the doctors, "I hope you all are Republicans."
James Brady, however, was not so lucky. He sustained a serious head wound and was permanently disabled. He suffered impaired speech, and was partially paralyzed, requiring him to use wheelchair. Brady stayed on as press secretary to the president, but primarily in a titular role. Larry Speakes (who died recently, in January 2014, at his home in Mississippi) became Acting Press Secretary, serving until 1987. As Brady recovered, instead of facing the press every day, he became active in lobbying for stricter handgun control as well as restrictions on assault weapons.
Brady and his wife Sarah were affiliated with gun-control groups, supported in part by other gun-violence victims, which eventually became known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Their signature piece of legislation was the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, known as the Brady Act. It was passed by Congress over the objections of the NRA, and signed by President Clinton in November 1993. It went into effect on Feb. 28, 1994.
The Brady Act essentially requires a background check in order to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed dealer. It also prohibits criminals, the mentally ill and unlawful users of controlled substances from transporting or possessing a gun. Most background checks are done on-the-spot; and the law does not apply to private sales of guns, or to collectible firearms.
While background checks have reportedly stopped over 2 million illegal sales of guns (and I don't pretend to be an expert on this issue; I'm just going by what I read), they have only affected something less than 2 percent of gun transactions. And prosecution of violators of the Brady Act has by far been the exception rather than the rule.
By some accounts, had the Brady Act been in effect in 1981, John Hinckley would likely have been prevented from buying his gun. But gun defenders are quick to point out that Adam Lanza, who shot and killed 28 people in Newtown, Conn., used legal firearms that belonged to his family.
I'm not arguing the case for or against gun control (although I, myself, am in favor of stricter gun regulations, for all the obvious reasons), but just to mark James Brady, a man who turned personal tragedy into what he and many others feel is a force for social progress.
Today, James Brady, at age 73, lives in Arlington, Va., with his wife Sarah. Although they have cut back on their activities, they are still involved in the effort to stop gun violence. James Brady has been awarded a number of honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. And in 2000, the White House press room was named the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in his honor.