March 30, 1981 was a dark day for America. On that day, a mentally ill man, John Hinckley, Jr., ambushed President Ronald Reagan and his entourage outside the Washington Hilton Hotel and fired six shots before being subdued. He injured four: President Reagan (a bullet lodged in the president's lung about an inch from his heart), D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady.
Brady was the most severely injured of the four. He was shot in the head and remains permanently disabled to this day. As he worked his way through a grueling rehabilitation process, Jim and his wife, Sarah, became passionate advocates for gun violence prevention. They were particularly disturbed by the fact that Hinckley was able to legally buy the revolver used in the shooting despite a history of mental illness. In those days, there were no background checks on gun buyers. Purchasers filled out a form that asked them about potential disqualifiers, but there was no process for law enforcement to check and authenticate their answers. It was an "honor system" of the most dangerous sort.
In the late 80s, Jim and Sarah pushed for the introduction of legislation to establish a background check system for gun buyers. President Reagan made his feelings clear about the legislation on the assassination attempt's ten-year anniversary:
March 30...marks an anniversary I would just as soon forget, but cannot ... Four lives were changed forever, and all by a Saturday-night special –a cheaply made .22 caliber pistol–purchased in a Dallas pawnshop by a young man with a history of mental disturbance. This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now–the Brady bill–had been law back in 1981.
The Brady bill became law on November 30, 1993. To date, the law has stopped nearly two million prohibited purchasers from buying guns through federally licensed firearms dealers (FFLs). There is no telling how many lives this has saved, but it is certainly many. Jim and Sarah Brady remain engaged in the battle for better gun laws to this day. During a trip to Capitol Hill last year to advocate for legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines (like the ones used in the January 2011 massacre in Tucson), Jim encouraged gun violence prevention activists to "fight fiercely." "I wouldn’t be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common sense [gun] legislation," he noted.
Most Americans admire Jim Brady for his courage, determination and unflappable sense of humor—in the face of the worst personal tragedy imaginable. Some pro-gun activists, however, wish nothing for Jim Brady but death.
The Starbucks Facebook page has become a hotbed of pro-gun extremism as of late, and recently someone (crudely) impersonated Jim Brady there. When confronted by Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) Director of Communications Ladd Everitt about it, the pro-gun activist in question responded as follows:
Personally I wish he would just let go of that last thread of life already. He's already undone a lifetimes worth of constitutional law. As far as I'm concerned he should die a traitors death.
Pro-gun activist Joe Adams of Colorado was equally blunt in commenting on a photo of Jim Brady at CSGV's Facebook page, writing:
lol the faggot should have died when he got shot!
It's impossible to understand why anyone would direct that type of cruelty at a man who has sacrificed so much for his country and fellow citizens.