Former White House press secretary James Brady, who became a champion of gun control after being wounded in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, has died, a family spokeswoman announced Monday. He was 73 years old.
“We are heartbroken to share the news that our beloved Jim “Bear” Brady has passed away after a series of health issues,” the Brady family said in a statement. "His wife, Sarah, son, Scott, and daughter, Missy, are so thankful to have had the opportunity to say their farewells."
The longtime public servant became a gun control advocate in the years after John Hinckley Jr., President Reagan's would-be assassin, shot him as he accompanied Reagan in front of the Washington Hilton. The president, a D.C. police officer, and a Secret Service agent were all wounded in that attack. All four men survived their wounds, though Mr. Brady suffered partial paralysis and spent the remainder of his life in a wheelchair.
Brady lost many things that day, including his career and his independence, but he managed to hold on to the legendary charm and fierce wit that had made him a favorite among the press corps.
When Brady learned that Nancy Reagan had lobbied against his appointment as press secretary because he supposedly wasn't young or handsome enough, he opened his next briefing by telling the press corps. “I come before you today as not just another pretty face, but out of sheer talent.”
The former first lady issued a statement Monday praising Brady. "In the short time he was able to serve as White House press secretary, Jim brought sharp instincts, integrity, and energy to one of the most demanding jobs in Washington," she said, according to the Associated Press.
In 1996, when President Clinton awarded Brady the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian ward in the United States, he greeted the press once again with that same legendary wit.
“I still miss some of you,” he quipped, before joking that there should be a trap door in the White House briefing room to deal with particularly inquisitive reporters.
He only served as press secretary for 69 days before being shot, but he left a permanent mark on the position. In 2000, Mr. Clinton renamed that room “The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room,” in his honor.
“He is somebody who I think really revolutionized this job,” Josh Earnest, President Obama’s press secretary, said Monday. “And even after he was wounded in that attack on the president, was somebody who showed his patriotism and commitment to the country by being very outspoken on an issue that was important to him and that he felt very strongly about.”
The years following that attack were difficult for Brady, who never fully recovered physically despite multiple brain surgeries. The frequent replay of video footage of the shooting plagued him emotionally. When his wife Sarah took up the banner of gun control in 1985, he was slow to join her.
In the years since, however, his name became synonymous with gun-control efforts, and in 1993, more than a decade after he was shot, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The law instituted a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases and, as of 1998, required federally licensed firearms dealers to conduct background checks prior to the completion of handgun sales.
That law has halted more than 2 million attempts to purchase handguns by prohibited purchasers, according to the Brady Campaign website.
President Obama Monday described Brady as a White House legend, who turned "the events of that terrible afternoon into a remarkable legacy of service." Thanks to Brady and the law bearing his name, "an untold number of people are alive today who otherwise wouldn't be," the president said in a statement.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.