Tuesday, August 5, 2014

James Brady

James Brady has passed on.  Brady was President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, who was paralyzed as a result of John Hinkley’s assassination attempt on the President.  Brady and his wife, Sarah, became activists for gun control.

I watched a movie about Brady way back when I was a kid.  It was called Without Warning: The James Brady Story.  Beau Bridges played James Brady, and Joan Allen played Sarah. Beau Bridges won a Golden Globe in 1992 for that role, beating some pretty prominent actors (see here)!

The movie was sad, yet it was about finding hope amidst an apparently hopeless situation.  At the beginning of the movie, James Brady is at the top of his game.  He enjoys flying kites with his son on the beach.  He bedazzles reporter with his quick wit as Reagan’s press secretary (see a scene of that here).

Then, he is shot, and he cannot do the things that he used to do.  Some of his coworkers visit him in the hospital, to their credit, but they often talk with each other like he isn’t even there.  Although Reagan keeps him on the payroll, and he is officially Reagan’s press secretary, that is in name only.  Later in the movie, when Jim tries to fly a kite like he did before he was shot, he cusses and curses due to his frustration.  His son then helps him out with the kite.

Meanwhile, his wife Sarah is vocal about her support for gun control.  Jim is concerned about this, due to Reagan’s membership in the National Rifle Association.  At the end of the movie, we are informed that Ronald Reagan supported the Brady Bill, which requires a waiting period and background check for people who want to buy a gun.

Why did Reagan support the Brady Bill, when he was a member of the NRA?  Was it out of sympathy to Jim Brady?  That could be one reason.  But Reagan’s own defense of the Brady Bill is quite cogent, in my opinion.  Allow me to quote from it (see here):

“…four lives were changed forever, and all by a Saturday-night special — a cheaply made .22 caliber pistol — purchased in a Dallas pawnshop by a young man with a history of mental disturbance.  This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now — the Brady bill — had been law back in 1981.  Named for Jim Brady, this legislation would establish a national seven-day waiting period before a handgun purchaser could take delivery. It would allow local law enforcement officials to do background checks for criminal records or known histories of mental disturbances. Those with such records would be prohibited from buying the handguns.

“While there has been a Federal law on the books for more than 20 years that prohibits the sale of firearms to felons, fugitives, drug addicts and the mentally ill, it has no enforcement mechanism and basically works on the honor system, with the purchaser filling out a statement that the gun dealer sticks in a drawer.  The Brady bill would require the handgun dealer to provide a copy of the prospective purchaser’s sworn statement to local law enforcement authorities so that background checks could be made. Based upon the evidence in states that already have handgun purchase waiting periods, this bill — on a nationwide scale — can’t help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases.  And, since many handguns are acquired in the heat of passion (to settle a quarrel, for example) or at times of depression brought on by potential suicide, the Brady bill would provide a cooling-off period that would certainly have the effect of reducing the number of handgun deaths.

“Critics claim that ‘waiting period’ legislation in the states that have it doesn’t work, that criminals just go to nearby states that lack such laws to buy their weapons. True enough, and all the more reason to have a Federal law that fills the gaps. While the Brady bill would not apply to states that already have waiting periods of at least seven days or that already require background checks, it would automatically cover the states that don’t. The effect would be a uniform standard across the country.

“Even with the current gaps among states, those that have waiting periods report some success. California, which has a 15-day waiting period that I supported and signed into law while Governor, stopped nearly 1,800 prohibited handgun sales in 1989.”

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