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Reagan press aide Brady dies

Tue., Aug. 5, 2014

James Brady attends a news conference in Washington on March 30, 2011, the 30th anniversary of the shooting. (Associated Press)
James Brady attends a news conference in Washington on March 30, 2011, the 30th anniversary of the shooting. (Associated Press)

Advocated for gun control after wounding in assassination attempt

WASHINGTON - James S. Brady, seriously wounded during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and later an influential fighter for gun control, died Monday.

Brady, 73, “revolutionized” the job of White House press secretary, said the current occupant of the job, Josh Earnest, who learned about Brady’s death as he delivered the daily press briefing in the White House room named after Reagan’s press secretary.

“He is somebody who I think really revolutionized this job,” Earnest said. “Even after he was wounded in that attack on the president, was somebody who showed his patriotism and commitment to the country by being very outspoken on an issue that was important to him and that he felt very strongly about.

“He leaves the kind of legacy that I think, that certainly this press secretary and all future press secretaries will aspire to live up to,” Earnest said.

Brady, called “The Bear” for his stocky gait, was shot on March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. According to the Washington Post, he had asked an aide to accompany Reagan to speak to an AFL-CIO event. Brady changed his mind.

They were walking out of the Hilton that afternoon when the shots were fired by John Hinckley. Brady was hit above the left eye. Reagan was struck by a bullet, and a Secret Service agent and Washington police officer were also wounded.

Brady, along with Reagan, was rushed to George Washington University Hospital. The Post reported “the bullet that entered Mr. Brady’s head shattered into more than two dozen fragments, with several penetrating his brain.”

He retained the press secretary label, returning to work in late 1982, but his ability was limited and others acted as White House spokesmen.

Brady and wife Sarah became strong advocates for gun control legislation, and in 1993, the “Brady Bill” became law, requiring background checks and a five-day waiting period before a gun purchase. The Bradys would remain a familiar presence on Capitol Hill pushing for tougher legislation.

In 2000, the White House press briefing room was renamed for Brady.

“We are heartbroken over the passing of James Brady. We offer our deepest condolences to his wife, Sarah, and the rest of his family as we mourn the loss of our dear friend and a true American hero,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“Jim never gave up fighting and never lost his trademark wit despite suffering a traumatic brain injury after being shot in 1981 by a mentally unstable young man attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Since then, he and Sarah have worked tirelessly to pass legislation that makes it harder for criminals and other dangerous people to buy guns.”

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said she was “deeply saddened to learn of Jim Brady’s passing today. Thinking of him brings back so many memories – happy and sad – of a time in all of our lives when we learned what it means to ‘play the hand we’re dealt.’ ”