Reagan Assassination Attempt: 25 Years Later
Thursday, March 30, 2006; 12:00 PM
Former Reagan White House Press Secretary James Brady and Sarah Brady , chair of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence , reflect on the attempted assassination of President Reagan 25 years ago on March 30, 1981. James Brady was seriously wounded in the attack, and the Bradys have since lobbied for stronger gun control laws. In 1993 President Clinton signed into law the "Brady Bill," which mandated a waiting period and background check on handgun purchases.
The transcript follows.
Charlottesville, Va.: Since his death, many people -- including former Reagan officials -- have reflected on the legacy of Ronald Reagan's presidency. What do you think of that legacy?
James and Sarah Brady: The legacy of Ronald Reagan will live on forever. I, of course, had the wonderful opportunity of working with him and getting to know him personally. A more wonderful person you couldn't meet. I think the coming down of the Berlin Wall will always live in infamy. I treasure his friendship and appreciate so much what he did for me personally and for the issue of reducing gun violence. He supported Sarah and my efforts to pass the Brady Law and the Assault Weapons ban. Jim
Los Angeles, Calif.: The National Academy of Sciences came out with a report in 2004 stating that no proof has been found that gun control has lessened violence. In light of this, what justification do you find for continuing to promote additional restrictions on your fellow law-abiding citizens, especially when gun ownership is on the rise and levels of crime and violence are at historic lows?
James and Sarah Brady: In the first place, lets make it clear we don't want restrictions on law abiding citizens beyond making sure that all gun purchasers undergo a complete and comprehensive background check. Our purpose is to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Since the Brady Law passed 1.3 million illegal purchasers have been stopped by the background checks. We must now be sure ALL sales undergo background checks.
Bethesda, Md.: Can you please assess the state of American politics today as opposed to 1980. Is it nastier? Are we getting the same quality candidates? How does it compare in general?
James and Sarah Brady: I would certainly say that politics in Washington has changed dramatically since 1980. It's gotten to be a nasty business with so much divisiveness. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill could disagree totally on issues and then get together for a social event. We need to moderate on both sides.
Washington, D.C.: Sarah, given that the attack on Reagan happened six years after D.C. had banned handguns, how is it that you can suggest that such laws actually make a difference? It would seem that your husbands injuries serve as a constant reminder that gun bans simply do not work. How do you reconcile this?
James and Sarah Brady: We do not support gun bans unless a locality has voted it in themselves. We did pass the Brady Bill which may well have stopped John Hinckley from getting the gun he used to shoot the President and three others of us.
Boston, Mass.: This might be a slightly untasteful question, but I would like to know if the U.S. government ever paid any money to you as reconciliation for your injuries suffered in the line of duty?
James and Sarah Brady: I am retired on disability and receive federal workmen's compensation. Any federal employed disabled while on the job also gets this benefit. I got no other special compensation.
Alexandria, Va.: How did this event change your views on politics and your outlook on life?
James and Sarah Brady: First it made us appreciate life, our family and our friends more than ever. We also don't get active in working for either political parties but decide on issues that we feel are important to the health and safety of our fellow citizens.
Charles Town, W.Va.: What are your feelings on the Instant background check (for which I approve of) verses 10 day waiting period? I personally feel that if a person is "dead set" on murdering someone, the ten day check has no bearing on their actions. i.e.: thieves, carjackers, etc.
James and Sarah Brady: In some cases the Instant Check system works - but states need to run their own background checks which are more comprehensive and up to date. They also weed out misdemeanor offenses involving spousal and child abuse. So Whatever time it takes to run a good comprehensive check is our choice. A short waiting period which serves to cool off tempers is also helpful.
Seattle, Wash.: James, like you, I went to St. Mary School in Centralia, IL. I was in 5th grade on the fateful day in 1981. My question: you were the press secretary for one of the most iconic Republicans of the century. How do we convince Republicans to listen to the reasonable majority of Americans in the middle, as opposed to the far-right minority who argue that ANY gun controls are a threat to "freedom"? It seems pretty simple... background checks and mandatory sales of trigger locks do not take away the right to own a gun legally.
James and Sarah Brady: You were right across the street from the home I grew up in if you were at St. Mary's in 1981. Brings back good memories to me. A majority of all Americans, including Republican, do favor background checks and safety locks. The Gun Lobby is so very powerful that it intimidates elected officials - seems so unfair that such a small part of our population is able to control our lawmakers - we need to keep working and getting the word out. Jim
Washington, D.C.: Sarah and Jim - thank you so much for all you do to work to try and stop the scourge of illegal guns in this country. As someone who deals with the effects of criminal use of guns in D.C., I can only imagine what it must be like to have to deal with the physical effects daily. I only wish that the Republicans in office would listen to the moderate wing of their party to work on commonsense legislation. If there is a moderate wing left.
James and Sarah Brady: There are a few left in Congress - Congressman Castle of our state of Delaware has been wonderful - voters must find out the voting records and opinions of their elected officials before voting - and then vote the extremists out.
New York, N.Y.: I was unaware that Reagan supported gun control, in fact I thought he was against it. What exactly did he do in support the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban?
James and Sarah Brady: Ronald Reagan make a public policy speech at George Washington Hospital when they dedicated a new wing to him, publicly calling for passage of the Brady Law - he also made many calls to fellow Republicans in Congress for both the Brady Law and Assault Weapons Ban - additionally he signed a letter with all the living past Presidents, excluding George H.W. Bush, calling for their passage - this letter appeared in numerous papers across the country.
Fairfax, Va.: You said earlier that you only support gun bans if locality votes for them. Why did you support and continue to call for 1994 Assault Weapon Ban that was passed on Federal level?
James and Sarah Brady: I was speaking of bans on all firearms. There has to be a line drawn between legitimate firearms and weapons of war. We don't sell rocket launchers to the civilian population - and assault weapons fall in that category. They have no legitimate purpose except in war.
Washington, D.C.: I appreciate what you're trying to do, but seeing as how individuals are able to buy guns on the black market, what's the point of background checks? All that does is put more of a burden on the law-abiding citizen.
James and Sarah Brady: Undergoing background checks is certainly a minor burden to a law abiding citizen. We are launching a new program to close the ability of criminals to get guns on the black market and from other sources. Closing the loopholes in the Brady Law by requiring background checks on all guns purchased by other sources than a gun dealer is one aspect, prohibiting multiple sales is another. Also keeping close tabs on the 3% of gun dealers who account for 50% of the crime guns is another. WE must cut off all sources of guns to criminals.
Lincoln, Neb.: This morning, Nebraska became one of the last states to allow concealed weapons - what is your reaction to the passage of this legislation?
James and Sarah Brady: We believe that permits for carrying concealed weapons should be issued only if the local law enforcement or courts approve.
Washington, D.C.: First, I want to thank you for your service to this county. I wanted to ask you if Hinckley has ever communicated with you and, if so, apologized for his actions?
James and Sarah Brady: I have never heard from Mr. Hinckley - and received no apology.
Ann Arbor, Mich.: Mr. Hinckley's trial ended in a ruling of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. Controversy still exists over this decision and Mr. Hinckley treatment. How do you feel about the NGRI decision in the case? Do you think that the shootings further stigmatized individuals dealing with a mental disorder?
James and Sarah Brady: Thankfully since the Hinckley decision, most states have adopted a guilty but insane plea which of course makes more sense.
Washington, D.C.: Almost every night on the local news we hear of yet another shooting (especially youth) in the Washington, D.C. area. What is your organization doing (grassroots, etc.)to reduce gun violence in the nation's capitol?
James and Sarah Brady: We are organizing. Go to our Web site bradycampaign.org and sign up. You can also see the work we are doing around the country.
washingtonpost.com: Thank you all for joining the discussion today.
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