Among my colleagues, James Brady is a much-loved man. He was President Reagan's press secretary for just a short time before he was shot, but his humor and his warmth and his honesty quickly made him many friends. His story is a poignant one. One wishes him only the best. And one wishes that only the best will come from what has happened to him.
But that does not seem to be the case. The tragedy of Jim Brady is treated in some sort of vacuum. From time to time stories appear about his medical condition, his occasional trips home and his recent appearance in the White House press room where he bantered with the press, the president and Nancy Reagan. Always, though, his injury is discussed without context. You would be forgiven for thinking that he had been struck by some disease and not a bullet.
But it was a bullet that struck James Brady. It was a bullet that entered his skull and smashed his brain. This is what paralyzed him on one side, that has kept him in the hospital since March, that has required four operations, and that, for a time, left him emotionally infantile -- likely to cry if he stumbled. This was not an act of God, it was an act of man.
And man could do something about it. It was a man, after all, who shot Brady. John Hinckley, the man accused of the shooting, bought a gun with incredible ease. No one asked him why he wanted the gun, whether, say, he wanted to kill someone -- and when he was caught with a gun trying to get on an airplane, none of these same questions were asked then, either. II t is more difficult to bring fruit into I America from a foreign country than to buy a gun. It is also harder to drive a car -- certainly harder to buy a car than a gun. It takes some time to get married and a lot more time to get divorced, but it takes no time to buy a gun. This is possible because of an archaic interpetation of the Second Amendment which deals with the right of the people to bear arms. That refers to the right of the people to raise a militia, not the right of some deranged young man to buy a gun.
The obvious lesson to come out of all this is that the nation needs a gun control law. It needs a national law, because to have a law in one state and not to have one in the next state is pure folly. These laws accomplish nothing except to allow those who are opposed to gun control to say that legislation never works. It could be that even a national gun control law will not work, but we will never know until we try it. It is not too much to imagine that a Hinckley -- no hardened killer he -- would have quit his task if he found it hard to get a gun.
However obvious these lessons are, they are lost on Ronald Reagan. He can stare down at a Jim Brady in his wheelchair and see no connection between Brady's condition and the gun that caused it. He, like so many Americans, seems to have accepted the event as a natural tragedy -- like polio. He can see Brady as the regretable price you sometimes have to pay for yet another American freedom.GG un control advocates ought to G understand this argument. It is not much different from what others say when it comes to civil liberties. For instance, no murder committed by someone out on bail is going to convince bail advocates that bail is not a good idea. And the occasional case where the guilty walks free because, say, the evidence was tainted, does not deter civil libertarians from believing in strict laws of evidence.
But that is because these laws serve a greater good. They are designed to protect the rights of us all. The gun, though, is a different matter. It protects only those who have it -- and then only in theory. In fact, it works best for whoever takes the initiative -- usually the criminal. This is what happened with James Brady. He and the president were surrounded by armed men -- trained, armed men -- yet a single man with a gun and a obsession for an actress shot them both.
The president recovered, but Brady still ails. His recovery has been miraculous. His bravery is undisputed. What is disputed, though, is his status. The president, it seems, would prefer to see him as a victim. It does not do him justice. He is, instead, a lesson.