On March 30, 1981, James Brady, President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, was shot along with the president, a Washington police officer, and a Secret Service agent, by would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr.
Mr. Brady, who was partially paralyzed after he took a bullet to his head, died this week at age 73; his death was ruled a homicide, 33 years after the shooting. But getting shot wasn’t the end of the story for Mr. Brady: Although the bullet damaged the right side of his brain, the former Reagan aide devoted his life to advancing legislation that would result in stricter gun controls.
Mr. Brady and his wife, Sarah, were frustrated by the weak background checks that had made it possible for Mr. Hinckley, a mentally troubled college dropout, to buy a handgun for $29 from a pawnshop using fake identification.
In 1994, a dozen years of lobbying and building a movement dedicated to sensible gun limits finally paid off. Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which tightened background checks and required waiting periods for some gun buyers. President Bill Clinton signed it enthusiastically.
The passage of the Brady bill was a rare defeat for the National Rifle Association, which claimed that waiting periods and stricter background checks violated the Second Amendment. Fortunately, most Americans appreciated the common-sense nature of the law and supported it overwhelmingly.
Mr. and Mrs. Brady continued to lobby for gun legislation, but they lost more battles than they won as Congress became more submissive to the NRA. Lawmakers did not reauthorize the federal ban on assault weapons in 2004, or tighten access to assault guns and large ammunition clips after high-profile massacres.
James Brady’s greatest accomplishment was struggling through his impairments to become the symbol of a movement that continues to oppose the lethal weapons and weak laws that take a toll on innocent Americans.