The story of the Brady Bill begins in 1981, roughly 11 years before President Clinton would take the oath of office. On March 30th of that year, John Hinkley Jr. waited with a crowd of eager onlookers to get a glimpse of America’s 40th President, Ronald Reagan when he entered the Washington Hilton Hotel to give a speech.  

As President Reagan walked down a 30-foot span of open sidewalk to the Hilton’s entrance, he was surrounded by the Secret Service, members of the District of Columbia’s Police Department, and members of his staff, including White House Press Secretary James Brady. As President Reagan passed in front of the crowd, Hinkley raised his handgun and fired what Life Magazine would later call “six shots at a nation’s heart”. 

President Reagan greets onlookers moments before the shooting begins.
President Reagan greets onlookers just seconds before Hinkley opens fire. Press Secretary James Brady can be seen behind the President wearing a dark grey suit. 

It took Hinkley just seconds to fire his six rounds at the President and his entourage. The first bullet struck Press Secretary James Brady in the head, just above his left eye. The second round hit District of Columbia Police Officer Thomas Delahanty in the back of the neck. A third round was fired over the heads of the crowd before a fourth hit Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy as he attempted to shield President Reagan. The final two shots hit the presidential limousine; one bullet lodged in a window’s bullet-proof glass while another ricocheted off the vehicle’s door and hit President Reagan in the lung.  

Chaos after the shooting
Photographs show the chaos of the moments directly following the gunshots. 

At the White House, chaos unfolded in the press briefing room, where information slowly trickled in on the President’s condition, the whereabouts of the shooter, and if anyone else had been wounded in the altercation. A few hours later, news arrived that President Reagan was in stable condition following surgery and that Hinkley had been apprehended. As Vice President George H.W. Bush arrived at the White House, order and calm prevailed. 

Watch as the chaotic White House Press Briefing unfolds in the moments after the assassination attempt.

Over the coming weeks, the public was relieved to see President Reagan emerge from his hospital bed and eventually resume his work governing the nation. Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy and District of Columbia Police Officer Thomas Delahanty were both discharged in short order, though Delahanty suffered permanent nerve damage in his arm. Unlike the others, White House Press Secretary, James Brady, would never be the same. For James Brady, the shot to his head left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

President Reagan in the hospital
President Reagan emerges from his hospital room for a photo opportunity. Soon, he would return to the Oval Office.

While an outpouring of public support showered the President and others injured during the attempted assassination, some politicians began to ask how John Hinkley Jr. had ever obtained a firearm. An FBI investigation would later uncover that Hinkley had purchased his handgun from a pawn shop in Texas despite a criminal and psychiatric record that indicated a high risk of engaging in violence against others. 

Get well soon card from Matthew
Support for the President and others harmed in the shooting came from many places after the assassination attempt. Here, you can see get well soon cards made by the children of Amity Elementary School in Boise, Idaho. 

In 1988, seven years after the assassination attempt, an effort was made to introduce legislation bearing Brady’s name that would restrict the sale of handguns. On this first attempt, the Brady Bill failed due to strong opposition by the National Rifle Association. In 1990, the Brady Bill resurfaced as part of a larger omnibus crime bill that would languish in committee for two years before it was declared dead.  In October of 1992, the Brady Bill was reintroduced in the Senate; but, again, no vote was held. It would take a new administration and strong executive influence to see such a measure succeed.

John Hinkley Jr. poses for his mugshot after he was apprehended
John Hinkley Jr. poses for his mugshot after his arrest.




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