"An empty man is full of himself." -- Edward Abbey

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Remember Him?

     Last Friday marked the 20th anniversary of the introduction of a federal law that was named in his honor. The legislation was signed by President Bill Clinton on November 30, 1993, and went into effect on February 28, 1994.

     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
     This all sounds pretty routine. But then in 1979 he joined the staff of then-presidential candidate John Connally. John Connally didn't fare so well during the campaign -- he dropped out of the Republican primaries in March 1980 after gaining only one delegate. But the staff member from Illinois caught the eye of one of the other candidates, Ronald Reagan. He was appointed Director of Public Affairs and Research for the Reagan-Bush Committee, and after Reagan won the election, he became the official Spokesperson for the Office of the President-Elect.

     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.



DJan said...

I do indeed remember him well. To my mind, it is shameful that we still don't require background checks for gun ownership. Thank you for reminding me of him and all he has done for society, even today.

stephen Hayes said...

I also remember him. Too bad that all of his effort and sacrifices haven't made this a safer country.

Meryl Baer said...

I knew nothing about Brady's life before becoming Reagan's Press Secretary. thanks for the info...

Anonymous said...

I was working in a VA outpatient facility the tv was on you could hear a pin drop, the place got so quiet I thought that we were working in a morgue, then the place went wild, police rushed to our area where we got threats daily..I so remember that day, my husband picked me up and my little dolly who was not quite 4 was so good & quiet, the doctors and nurses loved her and always got a big pop for my hubs and my only child, it was a sad sad day when that person tired to Kill President Reagan and almost killed Brady, I think him a real hero and has lived to tell America to always check into a persons background before selling a gun, too many crazy people live in the USA trying to kill others for no good reasons whatsoever, I live in the West and long long time ago when someone shot & killed another they never got to live the next day, now I am not advocating that but really it was 1981 for God's sake, why couldn't Hinckley been restrained and had mental health services daily he was from a wealthy republican family from Colorado and they got him help but they did not know how disturbed he truly was, shameful it has been 33 years since this tragedy!

Olga said...

I remember Brady, his wife Sarah, and their long campaign for gun safety. I wish I could believe that the country is a safer place for their efforts.

Douglas said...

DJan wrote: "To my mind, it is shameful that we still don't require background checks for gun ownership."

We do. At least in my state and most others. In fact, I am unaware of a state that does not require them. A few do not require them for purchase from a private owner (what might be called a "private sale.") and this is what the "gun show loophole" is all about. At a gun show, there will be a background check if you purchase from a dealer but, if you purchase from a non-dealer, there may not be one... it depends on your state's laws. Many people want to restrict gun sales completely; in other words, make all gun sales illegal. I don't know that it would make people safer. There does seem to be a need to do better background checks and delve deeper into mental health records. Unfortunately, that runs into medical privacy laws.

There are no simple answers without repealing the Second Amendment and confiscating privately owned weapons. Until then, this is an issue that will be used by politicians to make points and garner votes.

Tom said...

Douglas, a lot of people want to ban assault weapons, and/or register all guns, but only a few extreme anti-gun advocates want to "make all gun sales illegal."

However, whether it's due to the Brady campaign or something else, we should not forget that we ARE much safer than we were in 1981. There were 22,520 murders in the US in 1981 -- most committed with handguns -- and "only" 14,287 in 2012, even with our increased population. The murder rate is down dramatically from 9.8 to 4.7 per 100,000. Of course ... that's still 14,287 too many murders.

Anonymous said...

Poor Bill Brady. He had little success in his campaign to destroy the second amendment. I hated he was shot along with Reagan, but tinkering with the Constitution and it's Amendments is fraught with risk. I don't care much for the use of guns, but many people do.
A coworkers son shot and killed his brother. The first thing the parents said was, "guns don't kill people do. This happened in MD where the surviving kid is serving life in prison.

Here in VA, a former candidate for governor was wounded by his son who then killed himself.
The guy, Cree Deeds, is working to increase funding for mental health services and facilities..

Two things we need...mental health services for families, and restrictions on certain kinds of gun use...I.e. You can own a gun, but you can't use it any old way...say killing wolves from air planes. I think the NR A supports some measures...but not others.

I myself think we need to redefine the word gun. I don't think the laws we have on the books are enforced.

Anonymous said...

Just looked at your comment above
Yes, the pop has increased, but the number of gun users have declined. Unfortunately, most murders are committed by young Black males,and the incarceration rate for these juvenile offenders is up.
And, most victims are Black. A young girl 8 years old was killed by a stray bullet from a drive by shooting, here in DC just last week.
Judges used to send youthful offenders into the Marines, now they lock them up and these kids become major criminals. Is this progress?

Douglas said...

Tom, most people who want to "ban assault rifles" have no idea what one is. They are already banned . See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Firearms_Act An assault rifle is a fully automatic (selectable) weapon and is available (and legal) and not available for sale to civilians. It is not an AR-15 made for civilian use. It is not any rifle with a folding stock or that looks "mean."

Anonymous said...

Isn't it strange how getting shot in the head makes a person anti 2nd amendment? Same think happened to Gabby Gifford.

Bob Lowry said...

Nearly 10,000 Americans have been killed by guns in the last 14 months. Obviously, it takes a lot more than mass murder to quell people's determination to keep shooting. Exactly what has yet to be determined.

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