I told Jim Brady that every time I wrote an editorial in favor of gun control, it seemed that people in Fort Wayne bought more guns.
Jim just smiled and told me to keep writing the editorials. He died this week at 73, news that touched me with special sadness.
In 1994, he was in Fort Wayne to speak at the annual Golden Pen Banquet. This is the occasion when The Journal Gazette’s editorial board honors readers we thought wrote the best letter to the editor of each month of the past year.
At the time the paper held the event at the private Summit Club downtown. That particular evening the room was filled with letter-writers, spouses or their significant others, as well as the paper’s editorial page staff. This particular we all were especially honored to be in the presence of a man who had become the national symbol of the campaign for rational gun control.
Of the four people a mentally disturbed John Hinckley shot March 30, 1980, including President Reagan, the most seriously wounded was his press secretary Jim Brady. His head injury might easily have cost him his life. A bullet damaged the right side of Jim’s brain. It left him unable to use his left leg and loss of some short-term memory. The injury also impaired his speech.
But I can attest that during his talk that February evening, we understood Jim clearly. As I recall, when he finished speaking from his wheelchair, we gave him a standing ovation.
Even before the near fatal shooting that March, Jim was a person who drew others to him. Nicknamed the “Bear,” he first served Gov. John Connelly’s 1980 presidential campaign as its spokesman. When Connelly lost his bid for the nomination, Reagan’s team enlisted the wise-cracking, amiable Brady to represent the former actor before the legion of journalists.
After the shooting, Jim spent 11 months in a Washington hospital during his long battle to recover his wounds. But he and his wife Sarah soon enlisted in the national gun control lobby, Handgun Control Inc. I was well familiar with the advocacy group. I pestered them so frequently, they knew of the gun control advocacy of The Journal Gazette. But the Bradys’ involvement soon gave the organization greater visibility and national influence.
Handgun Control became the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. By the time Bill Clinton was president, gun control advocates really had something to cheer. Congress passed a bill to require a five-day waiting period for background checks. Jim and Sarah Brady were on hand when the president signed the bill into law. Unfortunately, because of the opposition of the National Rifle Association and the pro-gun lobby, the law didn’t apply to gun shows or to private gun sales. The loopholes remain to this day.
Nevertheless, researchers say that the law, now known as the Brady law, has prevented more than 2 million gun purchases. Who knows how many gun deaths the law prevented? Few Americans can claim doing so much good for so many people.
So years after that terrible spring day in 1981, the fight for rational gun policy goes on. We still kill more people with guns than any country. That’s about 30,000 a year. So many homicides. So many suicides. Research has long established that guns haven’t bought people safety.
But all of us who have joined the cause for rational gun policy will always remember our most courageous ally and friend, Jim Brady.