By Robert MacPherson
Washington (AFP) — Former White House spokesman James Brady, a tireless advocate for gun control after being severely wounded during a 1981 attempt on the life of his then-boss Ronald Reagan, has died at the age of 73.
In a statement to U.S. news media Monday that specified no date or place of death, Brady’s family said he passed away “after a series of health issues.”
“We are enormously proud of Jim’s remarkable accomplishments — before he was shot on that fateful day in 1981 while serving at the side of President Ronald Reagan and in the days, months, and years that followed,” they said.
Brady was among four people shot and wounded — including Reagan himself — when John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill the newly-inaugurated president on a rainy day outside the Washington Hilton hotel on March 30, 1981.
His serious head wound left him with partial paralysis and slurred speech. Unable to return to work, the Illinois native nevertheless retained the title of White House press secretary throughout the Reagan administration.
– Sought tougher gun laws –
With his wife Sarah, Brady took a front-and-center role in efforts to enact tougher handgun laws in the United States, notably through an advocacy group that came to be known as the Brady Campaign.
Success came in November 1993 when President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, which required background checks for anyone buying firearms from a licensed retailer in the United States.
He remain committed to gun control throughout his life, saying on Capitol Hill in 2011: “I wouldn’t be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation.”
“Jim was the personification of courage and perseverance,” said Reagan’s widow Nancy Reagan in a statement.
“He and Sarah never gave up, and never stopped caring about the causes in which they believed.”
More than two million attempts by prohibited individuals to buy firearms have been foiled since the “Brady Bill” — which did not extend to gun sales between individuals — came into force, said Brady Campaign president Dan Gross.
“Jim never gave up fighting and never lost his trademark wit,” said Gross, whose own brother suffered a traumatic brain injury during a shooting at the Empire State Building in New York.
– ‘Saved many lives’ –
“In fact, there are few Americans in history who are as directly responsible for saving as many lives as Jim,” he said in a statement.
At the White House, where in 2000 the press briefing room was renamed in Brady’s honor, spokesman Josh Earnest told journalists he was “saddened” by the news.
“He 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,” Earnest said.
“He leaves the kind of legacy that, I think, certainly this press secretary and all future press secretaries will aspire to live up to.”
For his attempt on Reagan’s life, Hinckley — who got his .22 pistol from a pawn shop in Texas, and claimed he was trying to impress actress Jodie Foster — was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Now 59, he resides at a Washington mental hospital, but has court permission to pay regular visits to his mother’s home in Virginia.
AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan
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