James Brady fought fiercely for gun control

James Brady spoke on Capitol Hill 30 years after the shooting.
Evan Vucci/Associated Press/File 2011
James Brady spoke on Capitol Hill 30 years after the shooting.

Three years ago, on the 30th anniversary of taking a bullet intended for President Reagan, James Brady said, “I wouldn’t be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation.” He never got his wish.

Brady, who died Monday at age 73, rolled his wheelchair everywhere he could in search of elusive common ground on gun control. His paralyzing wound to the head propelled him from being Reagan’s press secretary to the nation’s most visible anti-gun crusader, along with his wife Sarah. Their biggest victory came in 1993, when Congress passed the Brady Bill, named in his honor, which established a federal waiting period and background check for handgun purchases and banned assault-style weapons. But the assault weapons ban lapsed, and the National Rifle Association increased its pressure on a weak-willed Congress to reject further controls.

Brady didn’t become an activist until Reagan left office. Two years after the 1981 assassination attempt, Reagan told the NRA that “no group does more to promote gun safety and respect for the laws of this land than the NRA.” But once Brady took on the gun lobby, even Reagan was persuaded to write an op-ed in The New York Times supporting the Brady Bill, saying, “This level of violence must stop.” It will stop only if Americans, particularly politicians cowed by the NRA, remember Brady’s mantra: “Fight fiercely.”