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James Brady hailed as an American hero

Gun control advocate dies at 73

8/4/2014, 3:16 p.m.
Former White House press secretary James Brady, who survived a bullet wound to the head during the 1981 assassination attempt ...
The late James Brady

Former White House press secretary James Brady, who survived a bullet wound to the head during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan and went on to lead the gun control campaign that bears his name, has died at age 73, his family said in a statement Monday.

The family statement cited "a series of health issues" for the long-time political spokesman who was paralyzed during the attack 33 years ago.

"Over the years, Jim inspired so many people as he turned adversity into accomplishment," the family said in the statement.

“We are heartbroken over the passing of James Brady," said Dan Gross, president, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "We offer our deepest condolences to his wife, Sarah, and the rest of his family as we mourn the loss of our dear friend and a true American hero.

"Jim never gave up fighting and never lost his trademark wit despite suffering a traumatic brain injury after being shot in 1981 by a mentally unstable young man attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Since then, he and Sarah have worked tirelessly to pass legislation that makes it harder for criminals and other dangerous people to buy guns.

"Because of Jim’s hard work and the policy that bears his name—the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act—an estimated two million gun sales to criminals, domestic abusers and other dangerous people have been blocked. As a result, countless lives have been saved. In fact, there are few Americans in history who are as directly responsible for saving as many lives as Jim."

Current White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Brady "really revolutionized this job" and set a standard that successors should aspire to. As for Brady's long-time campaign for gun control, Earnest said he "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 White House press room is named in Brady's honor. So is the federal law that requires background checks on handgun buyers.

"There are few Americans in history who are as directly responsible for saving as many lives as Jim," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Born Aug. 29, 1940, in Centralia, Ill., Brady graduated from the University of Illinois in 1962 and held a number of jobs in government and Republican politics for two decades.

A spokesman for John Connally's failed campaign for the Republican nomination in 1980, Brady later joined Ronald Reagan's team and served as spokesman for the Office of the President-elect.

Reagan -- reportedly despite objections from wife Nancy -- tapped him as White House press secretary shortly after his 1981 inauguration. Nicknamed "The Bear," the garrulous Brady was highly regarded by the press corps.

"I come before you today not as just another pretty face, but out of sheer talent," the balding Brady told reporters shortly before he got the appointment.

On March 30, 1981, Brady accompanied Reagan to a speech at the Washington Hilton when John Hinckley Jr. opened fire on the presidential party. Reagan sustained a bullet wound in one lung, and recovered.

Caught in the crossfire, Brady sustained a wound in the head that paralyzed the left side of his body. Through therapy and a series of brain operations, Brady suffered constant pain as well as some slurred speech and partial brain damage.

Brady retained the title of press secretary for the remainder of Reagan's presidency, as others performed the duties of the office.