James S. Brady, the White House press secretary who was wounded in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and then became a symbol of the fight for gun control, championing tighter regulations from his wheelchair, died Monday in Alexandria, Virginia. He was 73.
Jennifer Fuson, a spokeswoman for Brady’s organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.
On the rainy afternoon of March 30, 1981, Brady was struck in a hail of bullets fired by John W. Hinckley Jr., a mentally troubled college dropout who had hoped that shooting the president would impress the actress Jodie Foster, on whom he had a fixation. Hinckley raised his handgun as Reagan stepped out of a hotel in Washington after giving a speech.
Reagan, a couple of paces from his limousine, was hit, as were a Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia police officer. But it was Brady, shot in the head, who was the most seriously injured. The bullet damaged the right section of his brain, paralyzing his left arm, weakening his left leg, damaging his short-term memory and impairing his speech. Just getting out of a car became a study in determination.
“What I was, I am not now,” Brady said in 1994. “What I was, I will never be again.”
What Brady became was an advocate of tough restrictions on the sale of handguns like the $29 pawnshop special that Hinckley had bought with false identification. “I wouldn’t be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation,” Brady said in 2011.
Brady and his wife, Sarah, campaigned for a bill that Congress passed 12 years after the shooting. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, as it was known, ushered in background checks and waiting periods for many gun buyers.
The Bradys also pressed for the restoration of a federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004.
They issued statements calling for renewed restrictions after episodes like the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. Last year, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York pushed a gun-control bill through the state legislature, the Bradys appeared in a commercial thanking Cuomo for, as Sarah Brady put it, “leading the way.” Sarah Brady said they had been asked to record the commercial by Cuomo’s sister Maria Cuomo Cole, a friend of hers.
James Brady returned to the White House occasionally. He spoke briefly with President Barack Obama – whom he had endorsed in 2008 – in 2011 on the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt.
The Bradys later sent recommendations to a White House task force on preventing gun violence, calling for universal background checks. They also recommended safety programs for the nation’s gun owners; Americans own almost 300 million firearms.
James Scott Brady was born on Aug. 29, 1940, in Centralia, Illinois, the only child of Dorothy and Harold Brady, a railroad yardmaster.
Besides his wife, Brady’s survivors include a son, James Scott Brady Jr., and a daughter, Melissa Jane, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. Brady lived in Alexandria, Virginia.