James Brady, former White House press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, died yesterday at the age of 73. The former press secretary became a strong advocate for gun control laws after he sustained major injuries in the 1981 assassination attempt on former President Reagan that left four people injured, including Reagan who was hit in the lung.
Brady’s injuries were the most severe. The press secretary was left paralyzed on the left side of his body, with lasting brain damage and short-term memory loss. He endured numerous operations including brain surgery and spent most of the rest of his life in a wheel chair. In recent years he was afflicted with several major health issues. The press secretary did return briefly to the White House after the incident that left him wheelchair-bound, and he retained his title and pay until the end of Reagan’s term, even after his departure from office.
Brady endured years of rehabilitation therapy. His wife, Sarah, described the experience of his recovery as “difficult as hell.” The former press secretary later said in an interview with Bill Plante, CBS News White House correspondent, that his time in therapy was “not my golden hour.”
He picked himself up though, even after originally having a difficult time with recovery, not allowing the experience to keep him down. Instead, the suffering he endured prompted him to take action against gun violence, and those who knew him admired the strength and perseverance he displayed. Brady used the experience to make changes to laws that kept guns out of the hands of criminals, although he suffered for the rest of his life.
In the years to come Brady experienced several major health scares, including a near-death experience in 1995, when the former White House press secretary was rushed to the hospital after his heart stopped during a dental procedure. The dental office staff responded quickly and his wife credited their quick action with saving his life.
Brady was a Republican and he spent his entire career working under Republicans in office. Throughout his early career the former press secretary opposed gun control. Sarah Brady was the first to join gun control efforts in 1985, prompted by her husband’s experience, and even though Brady was not on board at first, several years after the assassination attempt, he joined her, becoming a pioneer of gun control in a political party that often lobbies against it.
James and Sarah Brady began lobbying for a gun control law, eventually securing the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Act, commonly known as the Brady law, that made it mandatory for authorized firearms dealers to run background checks on anyone purchasing a gun. At first President Reagan opposed their efforts, but 10 years later endorsed them. Many believe Reagan’s endorsement was the turning point for gun control and doubt whether the gun control bill would have been passed without the president’s support.
President Bill Clinton awarded Brady the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 for the gun control work he had done. He was also honored when the White House press room was named after him. He was loved and known by many. James Brady will be missed as people celebrate his life and mourn the death of the 73-year-old former White House press secretary.
By Amy Gilmore