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30 years after the Reagan shooting, gun violence still reigns

Video: Former AP photographer Ron Edmonds and former secret service agent Danny Spriggs talk about witnessing the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. (March 30)

Sometimes I remember the early days of my life with Jim Brady, a man possessed of so much intelligence, wit and charm. There was the vivacious Washington life we shared, Jim’s rise to White House press secretary and the laughter of our toddler reverberating through our home.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since a mentally ill man tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan because of a romantic figment of his imagination. On March 30, 1981, a gunman was able to fire six shots from a .22-caliber pistol, wounding the president, a Secret Service agent, a police officer — and seriously injuring my husband, with a gunshot to the head.

It’s hard to believe how much our lives changed in those few seconds.

The effects of the shooting spree linger with us still. Jim was left partially paralyzed and moves primarily with the aid of a wheelchair. He undergoes physical therapy several times a week. His speech is slightly slower, but his intelligence and wit are as quick and powerful as lightning.

Our son is now married, and I am grateful that laughter still echoes in our home.

But so much of our future was wiped away by the Devastator bullet that pierced Jim’s brain and exploded. It’s achingly hard to believe how easy it was for a sick young man to get his hands on that gun.

It took seven years and an immeasurable number of hours of talking, walking and testifying for Congress to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. President Bill Clinton cradled and carried our cause in his heart all the way to the signing ceremony. The legislation requires federally licensed gun dealers to perform background checks on purchasers. Since enactment, 2 million gun purchases have been denied to people too dangerous and irresponsible to possess firearms. We’ll never know how many lives have been saved.

It’s hard to believe that despite this success, some conservatives who claim to revere Ronald Reagan still reject the common-sense gun reforms he backed. Reagan, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, believed in the Brady bill and the 1994 assault weapons ban, which helped stem the flow of those weapons of war to American streets. After the ban was allowed to expire in 2004, law enforcement reported a dramatic increase in seizures of guns using large-capacity assault magazines. It’s hard to believe that people who worship Reagan’s legacy would oppose policies he rightly understood would help save lives and dreams from the death and destruction of gun violence.

The reluctance of congressional Republicans — and many Democrats — to support effective gun restrictions made it excruciating to watch history repeat itself outside Tucson in January. It’s hard to believe that any American would sully his credibility by suggesting that a 32-round assault clip has a legitimate use in our society. Time and time again we have seen this weaponry used only to kill human beings in masses and mounds.

Some might find it hard to believe that anything will ever change when it comes to gun violence in America.

Through tear-stained optimism, we choose to believe otherwise. Polls tell us that the majority of Americans — people who own guns and people who don’t, people who identify themselves as liberal and people who identify themselves as conservative — believe in reasonable restrictions on lethal weapons. Conservatives including former vice president Dick Cheney see the wisdom of prohibiting the sale and manufacture of large-capacity clips. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has written forcefully, in the 2008 Heller decision, in favor of restrictions on who can get guns; where they can take them; and how they are made, sold and stored.

As “We, the people” press our demand for an America free of gun violence, Jim and I believe that the NRA’s mythological power will be consigned to the ash bins of time. Joyously, we may never know how many lives will be saved.

There was a time when few in power believed women deserved the right to vote. It took courage to stand up, face humiliation and harassment, and fight for it. There was a time when few in power believed African Americans deserved full citizenship. It took audacity to stand up, face dogs, hoses and lynch mobs, and fight for it. Now is the time for our elected officials to stand up and lead the way to a nation free of gun violence.

President Obama has begun the conversation. Jim and I are in Washington this week to rally more men and women of high morals and conscience to join him, because while it is hard to press through the pain of memories that have been singed, we still believe change is possible and necessary.

Sarah Brady is chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

 
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