On March 30, 1981, a mentally unstable college dropout stood outside a Washington, D.C. hotel armed with a handgun and a delusional idea that the way to impress Hollywood actress Jodie Foster was to shoot the president. So he did.
When President Ronald Reagan emerged on the rainy street that day, John W. Hinckley Jr. fired multiple shots, striking the president and three others.
The president recovered from his wounds, but one who didn’t was James Brady, the president’s press secretary, who was hit in the head and left partially paralyzed.
Brady, who died Monday in Alexandria, Va. at the age of 73, would go on to become a central figure in a national campaign for stronger controls on handguns. It’s part of a conversation this nation has had and must continue to have about stemming the tide of gun violence in America.
In particular, he became known for the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which put background checks and waiting periods for gun buyers into law.
As President Barack Obama noted in paying tribute to Brady on Monday, “An untold number of people are alive today who otherwise wouldn’t be, thanks to Jim.”
We wish we could say that it’s unfortunate that it takes someone getting hurt or killed before lawmakers are willing to make the changes that are needed. But it’s worse than that. Too often, many people are hurt or killed – sometimes mowed down in movie theaters, schools and city streets – and little to nothing is done.
Such was the case of the massive shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school nearly 20 months ago that left 20 children and six adults dead.
But one sensible change may be on the horizon. AB 1014 in the California Legislature would allow family members and licensed health care professionals to seek court assistance in having firearms taken from someone who they believe is a threat to themselves or to others.
The bill was introduced in response to the May 23 rampage near the UC Santa Barbara campus that left 13 injured and seven dead. Five, including the gunman, Elliot Rodger, a mentally troubled young student, died from gunshot wounds.
The bill is one of many that’s before the Legislature as it begins the frenzied final days of its session. But it shouldn’t be lost.
Too often, as was the case with Rodger, family members are the ones who are most aware of the risks posed by unstable loved ones, particularly those with access to firearms. Yet, under existing law, they sometimes feel powerless to stop the threat.
The bill, authored by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Assemblyman Das Williams and Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, both Democrats from Santa Barbara, would allow family members as well as licensed therapists and health care providers to petition a judge to have firearms taken from someone who has shown signs of harming themselves or others.
Having this passed and signed into law would be one more way to honor James Brady and all those who have been killed in rampages like the one in Isla Vista. It also would be a tribute to common sense.