Ronald Reagan Shot 30 Years Ago Today & Not Much Has Changed

Sasha Brown-Worsham

President Ronald Reagan was shot 30 years ago today on March 30, 1981. He recovered, but Jim Brady, the White House Press Secretary at the time, was shot in the head with a 0.22-caliber pistol. He was left partially paralyzed and needs both physical therapy and a wheelchair just to get around.

It's the side of the story we don't hear. Reagan was leaving a speaking engagement on that day when John Hinckley, Jr., a mentally disturbed young man in the throes of an obsession with actress Jodie Foster, shot him and three others, including Brady. Reagan suffered a punctured lung, but recovered quickly, far more quickly than Brady, whose whole life changed in an instant.

His wife -- Sarah Brady -- mostly blames that change not on the insane young man who pulled the trigger, but on the gun laws that allowed him to be armed that day. In an op ed in the Washington Post, Sarah Brady writes:

It’s achingly hard to believe how easy it was for a sick young man to get his hands on that gun. It took seven years and an immeasurable number of hours of talking, walking and testifying for Congress to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. 

The legislation, which is obviously named for Jim Brady, requires background checks on anyone who wants to buy a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer. According to the Post, the Act has prevented 2 million gun purchases.

But, as Brady says in the article and as we've seen with our own eyes, guns are still a huge part of the American culture -- from the horrific shooting in January in Arizona to the culture of gun love that pundits like Sarah Palin use almost daily. We live in a country where the National Rifle Association (NRA) is very powerful and people believe strongly in their right to bear arms.

It's a strange obsession. The first time I ever shot a gun was last Christmas. My father-in-law owns at least a dozen guns and has won awards for marksmanship. Both he and my husband's brother are licensed to carry weapons. They brought me to the shooting range and I had a lot of fun. For target practice or for hunting, guns make sense, but as protection or for other reasons, I am not sure they do. Here are some facts:

  • As of 2010, more than 300 million firearms were owned by civilians in the US.
  • 67 percent of the murders committed in the US are committed with guns.
  • As of 2005, on average, 3 children died every day in non-homicide firearm incidents from 2000-2005.
  • The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children aged less than 15 years was nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries combined.
  • 1.69 million kids 18 and under in the United States are living with loaded and unlocked household firearms.

This is clearly a problem. We are living in a gun-happy culture and kids have access to guns. Sarah Brady is right. How can we have learned this lesson 30 years ago and still be fighting about this issue so much?

Maybe the two sides can't find common ground when one sees guns as evil and pointless and the other sees them as necessary and their right to own, but maybe we can all see it in terms of children and their safety. As Brady said in her piece:

It’s hard to believe that any American would sully his credibility by suggesting that a 32-round assault clip has a legitimate use in our society. Time and time again we have seen this weaponry used only to kill human beings in masses and mounds.

There can be common ground, but we need to set aside the extremes. One side needs to understand that some people want guns and the other needs to understand that there are responsible gun owners out there. Either way, something has to give. Thirty years ago, we almost lost our President. It's sad to know that in three decades, so little has changed. 

What do you think could be done?


Image via MCS@flickr/Flickr

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