America's "first family of gun control" lost its tough-as-nails patriarch on Monday when former presidential Press Secretary James Brady died at age 73.
For the past 33 years, Brady had been one of the country's most visible reminders of the need to control unfettered access to guns, especially handguns.
In March of 1981, Brady was shot outside the Washington Hilton Hotel by John W. Hinckley Jr. as part of an assassination attempt that also wounded President Ronald Reagan. Hinckley apparently had hoped that the assassination attempt would catch the notice of actress Jodie Foster.
Hinckley ambushed the presidential party as they exited the hotel after Reagan had given a speech to the AFL-CIO. Before being subdued, Hinckley managed to fire six shots from the .22-caliber revolver he had purchased at a pawnshop for $29. Brady was the first to be hit as a bullet entered his skull and fragmented into his brain causing massive damage.
Reagan was hit in the lung by a bullet that ricocheted off the presidential limousine. He had been in office only 69 days when the shooting occurred.
The president recovered fairly quickly, but Brady's injuries were much more problematic and his recovery was agonizingly slow. In fact, the neurosurgeon who treated Brady later confided that he did not think that his patient would live.
But live he did.
After 18 months of rehabilitation Brady returned to work -- albeit in a more symbolic way -- in November of 1982 and served through Reagan's second term that ended in January of 1989.
Although he never fully recovered to the affable press secretary with the rapier wit that he once had been, he became a galvanizing symbol in the gun-control debate.
Moreover, it was clear that Brady and his wife, Sarah, had found their calling. They became ardent and outspoken crusaders for any legislation that they deemed would better restrict access to guns. We fully expect Sarah Brady will continue that legacy.
The Bradys took their case to the U.S. Congress and there were plenty of skirmishes with the powerful National Rifle Association. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was first introduced in Congress in 1987. It imposed background checks and a waiting period in an effort to uncover those who had been barred from buying guns, including felons and the mentally ill. It was finally passed and signed in 1993.
During those congressional battles, Brady spared no criticism of legislators who voted with the NRA and against his bill calling them "gutless," among other things.
While a powerful spokesman for gun control has left us, his spirit will no doubt live on and, we hope, offer greater strength to those who continue the fight.