Attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan
|Reagan assassination attempt|
Ronald Reagan waves just before he is shot. From left are Jerry Parr, in white trench coat, who pushed Reagan into the limousine; press secretary James Brady, who was seriously wounded by a gunshot wound to the head; Reagan; aide Michael Deaver; an unidentified policeman; policeman Thomas K. Delahanty, who was shot in the neck; and secret service agent Tim McCarthy, who was shot in the chest.
|Location||Washington, D.C., U.S.|
|Date||March 30, 1981 |
2:27 p.m. (Eastern Time)
|Weapons||Röhm RG-14 .22 cal.|
|Deaths||James Brady (in 2014 as a result of initial injury)|
|Perpetrator||John Hinckley Jr.|
|Motive||Attempt to gain the favor of actress Jodie Foster|
On March 30, 1981, United States President Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr. in Washington, D.C. as he was returning to his limousine after a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Hinckley believed the attack would impress actress Jodie Foster, with whom he had become obsessed.
Reagan was seriously wounded by a .22 Long Rifle bullet that ricocheted off the side of the presidential limousine and hit him in the left underarm, breaking a rib, puncturing a lung, and causing serious internal bleeding. He was close to death upon arrival at George Washington University Hospital but was stabilized in the emergency room, then underwent emergency exploratory surgery. He recovered and was released from the hospital on April 11. No formal invocation of presidential succession took place, although Secretary of State Alexander Haig stated that he was "in control here" while Vice President George H. W. Bush returned to Washington from Fort Worth, Texas.
White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded. All three survived, but Brady suffered brain damage and was permanently disabled. His death in 2014 was considered a homicide because it was ultimately caused by this injury.
A federal judge subpoenaed Foster to testify at Hinckley's trial, and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity on charges of attempting to assassinate the president. Hinckley remained confined to a psychiatric facility. In January 2015, federal prosecutors announced that they would not charge Hinckley with Brady's death, despite the medical examiner's classification of his death as a homicide. He was released from institutional psychiatric care on September 10, 2016.
Hinckley was suffering from erotomania and his motivation for the attack was born of his obsession with actress Jodie Foster. While living in Hollywood in the late 1970s, he saw the film Taxi Driver at least 15 times, apparently identifying strongly with protagonist Travis Bickle, portrayed by Robert De Niro. The story involves Bickle's attempts to protect a 12-year-old child prostitute played by Foster. Toward the end of the film, Bickle attempts to assassinate a United States senator who is running for president. Over the following years, Hinckley trailed Foster around the country, going so far as to enroll in a writing course at Yale University in 1980 after reading in People magazine that she was a student there. He wrote numerous letters and notes to her in late 1980. He called her twice and refused to give up when she indicated that she was not interested in him.
Hinckley was convinced that he would be Foster's equal if he became a national figure. He decided to emulate Bickle and began stalking President Jimmy Carter. He was surprised at how easy it was to get close to the president—he was only a foot away at one event—but was arrested in October 1980 at Nashville International Airport and fined for illegal possession of firearms.:70,251 Carter had made a campaign stop there, but the FBI did not connect this arrest to the president and did not notify the United States Secret Service. His parents briefly placed him under the care of a psychiatrist. Hinckley turned his attention to Ronald Reagan whose election, he told his parents, would be good for the country. He wrote three or four more notes to Foster in early March 1981. Foster gave these notes to her dean, who gave them to the Yale police department, who sought but failed to track Hinckley down.
I looked up at the presidential box above the stage where Abe Lincoln had been sitting the night he was shot and felt a curious sensation ... I thought that even with all the Secret Service protection we now had, it was probably still possible for someone who had enough determination to get close enough to the president to shoot him.
Speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel
On March 28, Hinckley arrived in Washington, D.C. by bus and checked into the Park Central Hotel. He originally intended to continue on to New Haven in another attempt to infatuate Foster. He noticed Reagan's schedule that was published in The Washington Star and decided it was time to act. Hinckley knew that he might be killed during the assassination attempt, and he wrote but did not mail a letter to Foster about two hours prior to his attempt on the president's life. In the letter, he said that he hoped to impress her with the magnitude of his action and that he would "abandon the idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you.":58
On March 30, Reagan delivered a luncheon address to AFL–CIO representatives at the Washington Hilton. The Secret Service was very familiar with the hotel, having inspected it more than 100 times for presidential visits since the early 1970s. The Hilton was considered the safest venue in Washington because of its secure, enclosed passageway called "President's Walk", built after the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Reagan entered the building through the passageway around 1:45 p.m., waving to a crowd of news media and citizens. The Secret Service had required him to wear a bulletproof vest for some events, but Reagan was not wearing one for the speech, because his only public exposure would be the 30 feet (9 m) between the hotel and his limousine, and the agency did not require vests for agents that day. No one saw Hinckley behaving in an unusual way; witnesses who reported him as "fidgety" and "agitated" apparently confused Hinckley with another person that the Secret Service had been monitoring.
At 2:27 p.m.,:82 Reagan exited the hotel through "President's Walk" on Florida Avenue, where reporters waited. He left the T Street NW exit toward his waiting limousine as Hinckley waited within the crowd of admirers. The Secret Service had extensively screened those attending the president's speech, but greatly erred by allowing an unscreened group to stand within 15 ft (4.6 m) of him, behind a rope line.:80–81,225 The agency uses multiple layers of protection; local police in the outer layer briefly check people, Secret Service agents in the middle layer check for weapons, and more agents form the inner layer immediately around the president. Hinckley penetrated the first two layers.
As several hundred people applauded Reagan, the president unexpectedly passed right in front of Hinckley. Reporters standing behind a rope barricade 20 feet away asked questions. As Mike Putzel of the Associated Press shouted "Mr. President—", Hinckley, believing he would never get a better chance,:81 fired a Röhm RG-14 .22 LR blue steel revolver six times in 1.7 seconds,:82 missing the president directly with all six shots.
The first round hit White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head above his left eye, passing through underneath his brain and shattering his brain cavity; the small explosive charge in the round exploded on impact. District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty recognised the sound as a gunshot and turned his head sharply to the left to identify the shooter.:82 As he did so, he was struck in the back of his neck by the second shot, the bullet ricocheting off his spine. Delahanty fell on top of Brady, screaming "I am hit!". Hinckley now had a clear shot at the president,:81 but Alfred Antenucci, a Cleveland, Ohio, labor official who stood nearby him, and saw him fire the first two shots, hit Hinckley in the head and began to wrestle the shooter down to the ground. Upon hearing the shots, Special Agent in Charge Jerry Parr almost instantly grabbed Reagan by the shoulders and dove with him toward the open rear door of the limousine. Agent Ray Shaddick trailed just behind Parr to assist in throwing both men into the car.
As a result of Antenucci spoiling Hinckley's aim and Parr pushing the President, the third round overshot the president, instead hitting the window of a building across the street. Antenucci's response and Parr's prompt reaction likely saved Reagan from being hit in the head.:224 As Parr pushed Reagan into the limousine, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy snapped his attention toward the sound of the gunfire, pivoted to his right, and put himself in the line of fire. McCarthy spread his arms and legs, taking a wide stance directly in front of Reagan and Parr to make himself a target. McCarthy was struck in the lower abdomen by the fourth round, the bullet traversing his right lung, diaphragm, and right lobe of the liver. The fifth round hit the bullet-resistant glass of the window on the open rear door of the limousine as Reagan and Parr were passing behind it. The sixth and final bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limousine, passed between the space of the open rear door and vehicle frame, and hit the president in the left underarm. The round grazed a rib and lodged in his lung, causing it to partially collapse before stopping less than an inch (25 mm) from his heart.
Within moments of the first shots, Agent Dennis McCarthy (no relation to agent Timothy McCarthy) dove across the sidewalk and landed directly onto Hinckley as others pushed him to the ground.:84 Another Cleveland-area labor official, Frank J. McNamara, joined Antenucci and started punching Hinckley in the head, striking him so hard he drew blood. Agent McCarthy later reported that he had to "strike two citizens" to force them to release Hinckley. Agent Robert Wanko (misidentified as "Steve Wanko" in a newspaper report) deployed an Uzi submachine gun concealed in a briefcase to cover the president's evacuation and to deter a potential group attack. The sight of Agent Wanko brandishing the Uzi is one of the most famous and well-recalled images of the event.
The day after the shooting, Hinckley's gun was given to the ATF, which traced its origin. In just 16 minutes, agents found that the gun had been purchased at Rocky's Pawn Shop in Dallas, Texas. It had been loaded with six "Devastator" brand cartridges, which contained small aluminum and lead azide explosive charges designed to explode on contact; the bullet that hit Brady was the only one that exploded. On April 2, after learning that the others could explode at any time, volunteer doctors wearing bulletproof vests removed the bullet from Delahanty's neck.:223
George Washington University Hospital
After the Secret Service first announced "shots fired" over its radio network at 2:27 p.m. Reagan—codename "Rawhide"—was taken away by the agents in the limousine ("Stagecoach").:66 No one knew that he had been shot. After Parr searched Reagan's body and found no blood, he stated that "Rawhide is OK...we're going to Crown" (the White House), as he preferred its medical facilities to an unsecured hospital.
Reagan was in great pain from the bullet that struck his rib, and believed that the rib had cracked when Parr pushed him into the limousine. When the agent checked him for gunshot wounds, however, Reagan coughed up bright, frothy blood. Although the president believed that he had cut his lip, Parr believed that the cracked rib had punctured Reagan's lung and ordered the motorcade to divert to nearby George Washington University Hospital, which the Secret Service periodically inspected for use. The limousine arrived there less than four minutes after leaving the hotel, while other agents took Hinckley to a DC jail, and Nancy Reagan ("Rainbow") left the White House for the hospital.
Although Parr had requested a stretcher, none were ready at the hospital, and it did not normally keep a stretcher at the emergency department's entrance. Reagan exited the limousine and insisted on walking. Reagan acted casual and smiled at onlookers as he walked in. While he entered the hospital unassisted, once inside the president complained of difficulty breathing, his knees buckled, and he went down on one knee; Parr and others assisted him into the emergency department. The Physician to the President, Daniel Ruge, had been near Reagan during the shooting and arrived in a separate car. Believing that the president might have had a heart attack, he insisted that the hospital's trauma team, and not himself or specialists from elsewhere, operate on him as they would any other patient.:106–107 When a hospital employee asked Reagan aide Michael Deaver for the patient's name and address, only when Deaver stated "1600 Pennsylvania" did the worker realize that the president of the United States was in the emergency department.:107–108
The team, led by Joseph Giordano, cut off Reagan's "thousand dollar" custom-made suit to examine him, much to Reagan's anger. Military officers, including the one who carried the nuclear football, unsuccessfully tried to prevent FBI agents from confiscating the suit, Reagan's wallet, and other possessions as evidence; the Gold Codes card was in the wallet, and the FBI did not return it until two days later. The medical personnel found that Reagan's systolic blood pressure was 60 versus the normal 140, indicating that he was in shock, and knew that most 70-year-olds in the president's condition would not survive.:108 Reagan was in excellent physical health, however, and also was shot by the .22 caliber instead of the larger .38 as was first feared. They treated him with intravenous fluids, oxygen, tetanus toxoid, and chest tubes, and surprised Parr—who still believed that he had cracked the president's rib—by finding the entrance of the gunshot wound. Brady and the wounded agent McCarthy were operated on near the president; when his wife arrived in the emergency department, Reagan remarked to her, "Honey, I forgot to duck", borrowing boxer Jack Dempsey's line to his wife the night he was beaten by Gene Tunney. While intubated, he scribbled to a nurse, "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia", borrowing a line from W. C. Fields. Although Reagan came close to death, the team's quick action—and Parr's decision to drive to the hospital instead of the White House—likely saved the president's life, and within 30 minutes Reagan left the emergency department for surgery with normal blood pressure.
The chief of thoracic surgery, Benjamin L. Aaron, decided to perform a thoracotomy lasting 105 minutes because the bleeding persisted. Ultimately, Reagan lost over half of his blood volume in the emergency department and during surgery, which removed the bullet. In the operating room, Reagan removed his oxygen mask to joke, "I hope you are all Republicans". The doctors and nurses laughed, and Giordano, a liberal Democrat, replied, "Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans".:147 Reagan's post-operative course was complicated by fever, which was treated with multiple antibiotics. His entering the operating room conscious and not in shock, and the surgery being routine, caused Reagan's doctors and others to predict that he would be able to leave the hospital in two weeks, return to work at the Oval Office in a month, and completely heal in six to eight weeks with no long-term effects.
National Security Advisor Richard Allen would traditionally be responsible for crisis management for the Executive Branch, but Secretary of State Alexander Haig wanted the role. Six days before the shooting, Vice President George H. W. Bush received the assignment instead; Allen and the National Security Council would assist him. Reagan persuaded an upset Haig not to resign; the secretary reportedly "pound[ed] the table in frustration and anger". When the White House learned of the assassination attempt, however, Haig was in the White House. He urged the vice president—visiting Texas for the first time since the inauguration—to return, but the voice connection to Bush aboard Air Force Two was weak and whether they heard each other is unclear.
By 2:35 p.m., Bush was notified of the shooting. He was leaving Fort Worth, Texas, and, relying on the initial reports that Reagan was unharmed, he flew to Austin for a speech. At 3:14 p.m., 47 minutes after the shooting, Haig sent a coded Teletype to Bush:
MR. VICE PRESIDENT: IN THE INCIDENT YOU WILL HAVE HEARD ABOUT BY NOW, THE PRESIDENT WAS STRUCK IN THE BACK AND IS IN SERIOUS CONDITION. MEDICAL AUTHORITIES ARE DECIDING NOW WHETHER OR NOT TO OPERATE. RECOMMEND YOU RETURN TO DC AT EARLIEST POSSIBLE MOMENT. SECRETARY ALEXANDER HAIG, JR.
Air Force Two refueled in Austin before returning to Washington at what its pilot described as the fastest speed in the plane's history.[dead link] The aircraft did not have secure voice communications, and Bush's discussions with the White House were intercepted and given to the press.
White House Counsel Fred Fielding immediately prepared for a transfer of presidential powers under the 25th Amendment, and Chief of Staff James A. Baker and Counselor to the President Edwin Meese went to Reagan's hospital still believing that the president was unharmed. Within five minutes of the shooting, members of the Cabinet began gathering in the White House Situation Room. The Cabinet and the Secret Service were initially unsure whether the shooting was part of a larger attack by terrorists or a foreign intelligence service such as the KGB. Tensions with the Soviet Union were high due to the Solidarity movement in Communist Poland. The Cabinet was also concerned that the Soviets would take advantage of the unstable situation to launch a nuclear attack. After the shooting the American military detected two Soviet ballistic missile submarines patrolling unusually close the East Coast of the United States, allowing their missiles to reach Washington D.C. two minutes faster than usual.:175–177 Haig, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, and Allen discussed various issues, including the location of the nuclear football, the submarine presence, a possible Soviet invasion against the 1981 warning strike in Poland, and the presidential line of succession. Although normally no tape recorders are allowed in the Situation Room these meetings were recorded with the participants' knowledge by Allen, and the five hours of tapes have since been made public.
The group obtained a duplicate nuclear football and Gold Codes card, and kept it in the Situation Room. (Reagan's football was still with the officer at the hospital, and Bush also had a card and football.):155 The participants discussed whether to raise the military's alert status, and the importance of doing so without changing the DEFCON level, although the number of Soviet submarines proved to be normal. Upon learning that Reagan was in surgery, Haig declared, the "helm is right here. And that means right in this chair for now, constitutionally, until the vice president gets here".
Haig was incorrect. As the sitting Secretary of State, he was fourth behind Vice President Bush, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, and President pro tempore of the Senate Strom Thurmond in the line of succession and, under 3 U.S.C. § 19, O'Neill and Thurmond would have to resign their positions to become acting president. Although others in the room knew that Haig's statement was constitutionally incorrect, they did not object at the time to avoid a confrontation. Allen later said that although Haig "constantly, incessantly drummed on some variant of 'I am in charge, I am senior'", he and Fielding "didn't give a rat's ass" as Bush would be in charge when he arrived.
At the same time, a press conference was underway in the White House Briefing Room. CBS reporter Lesley Stahl asked deputy press secretary Larry Speakes who was running the government, to which Speakes responded, "I cannot answer that question at this time". Upon hearing Speakes' remark, Haig wrote and passed a note to Speakes, ordering him to leave the dais immediately.:171–173 Moments later, Haig himself entered the Briefing Room, where he made the following controversial statement:
Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order, and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending the return of the vice president and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.
Despite his familiarity with the Briefing Room from serving as Richard Nixon's chief of staff, Stahl described Haig as "visibly shaken", and the Associated Press wrote that "his voice continually choked up and quavered with emotion, and his arms trembled". Those in the Situation Room reportedly laughed when they heard him say "I am in control here", and Allen later said "I was astounded that he would say something so eminently stupid". Haig later said,
I wasn't talking about transition. I was talking about the executive branch, who is running the government. That was the question asked. It was not "Who is in line should the President die?"
Although Haig stated in the Briefing Room that "There are absolutely no alert measures that are necessary at this time or contemplated", while he was speaking Weinberger raised the military's alert level. After Haig returned to the Situation Room, he objected to Weinberger doing so as it made him appear a liar, although as deputy commander-in-chief, only Reagan outranked Weinberger in the National Command Authority. Weinberger and others accused Haig of exceeding his authority with his "I am in control" statement, while Haig defended himself by advising the others to "read the Constitution", saying that his comments did not involve "succession" and that he knew the "pecking order".
On Air Force Two, Bush watched Haig's press briefing. Meese told him that Reagan was stable after surgery to remove the bullet. The vice president decided to not fly by helicopter from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House; he later said "only the president lands on the South Lawn". After landing at 6:30 p.m., Marine Two instead flew to Number One Observatory Circle.
"Despite brief flare-ups and distractions", Allen recalled, "the crisis management team in the Situation Room worked well together. The congressional leadership was kept informed, and governments around the world were notified and reassured." Reagan's surgery ended at 6:20 p.m., although he did not regain consciousness until 7:30 p.m., so could not invoke Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to make Bush acting president. The vice president arrived at the White House at 7:00 p.m., and did not invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. Bush took charge of the Situation Room meeting, which found that the Soviet attack on Poland had been postponed and that Hinckley had not specifically targeted Reagan. He stated on national television at 8:20 p.m.:
I can reassure this nation and a watching world that the American government is functioning fully and effectively. We've had full and complete communications throughout the day.
The assassination attempt was captured on video by several cameras, including those belonging to the Big Three television networks; ABC began airing footage at 2:42 p.m. All three networks erroneously reported that Brady had died. When ABC News anchorman Frank Reynolds, a friend of Brady, was later forced to retract the report, he angrily said on-air to his staff, "C'mon, let's get it nailed down!", as a result of the miscommunication. ABC News also initially reported that the President had not been injured, which it was also forced to retract. A different network erroneously reported that Reagan was undergoing open-heart surgery. While CNN did not have a camera of its own at the shooting it was able to use NBC's pool feed, and by staying on the story for 48 hours, the network, less than a year old, built a reputation for thoroughness. Shocked Americans gathered around television sets in homes and shopping centers. Some cited the alleged Curse of Tippecanoe, and others recalled the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Newspapers printed extra editions and used gigantic headlines; the United States Senate adjourned, interrupting debate of Reagan's economic proposals; and churches held prayer services.
Hinckley asked the arresting officers whether that night's Academy Awards ceremony would be postponed because of the shooting, and it was; the ceremony—for which former actor Reagan had taped a message—occurred the next evening. The president survived surgery with a good prognosis, and the NCAA championship basketball game that evening between Indiana and North Carolina was not postponed, although the audience of 18,000 in Philadelphia held a moment of silence before the game, which Indiana would go on to win. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined before the New York Stock Exchange closed early, but the index rose the next day as Reagan recovered. Beyond having to postpone its Academy Awards broadcast, ABC temporarily renamed the lead character of The Greatest American Hero (which had debuted in March) from "Ralph Hinkley" to "Hanley", and NBC postponed a forthcoming episode of Walking Tall titled "Hit Man".
Reagan's staff members were anxious for the president to appear to be recovering quickly, and the morning after his operation he saw visitors and signed a piece of legislation. Reagan left the hospital on the morning of April 11. Entering the limousine was difficult, and he joked that the first thing he would do at home was "sit down".
Reagan's recovery speed impressed his doctors, but they advised the president to not work in the Oval Office for a week and avoid travel for several weeks. No visitors were scheduled for his first weekend; initially, Reagan worked two hours a day in the White House's residential quarters. Reagan did not lead a Cabinet meeting until day 26, did not leave Washington until day 49, and did not hold a press conference until day 79. Ruge, the Physician to the President, thought recovery was not complete until October. Reagan's plans for the month after the shooting were canceled, including a visit to the Mission Control Center at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in April 1981 during STS-1, the first flight of the Space Shuttle. Vice President Bush instead called the orbiting astronauts during their mission. Reagan would visit Mission Control during STS-2 that November.
The attempt had great influence on Reagan's popularity; polls indicated his approval rating to be around 73%. Reagan believed that God had spared his life so that he might go on to fulfill a greater purpose and, although not a Catholic, meetings with Mother Teresa, Cardinal Terence Cooke, and fellow shooting survivor Pope John Paul II reinforced his belief.
Reagan returned to the Oval Office on April 25 and received a standing ovation from staff and Cabinet members. He referred to their teamwork in his absence and insisted, "I should be applauding you." He made his first public appearance in an April 28 speech before the joint houses of Congress. In the speech, he introduced his planned spending cuts, which had been a campaign promise. He received "two thunderous standing ovations", which The New York Times deemed "a salute to his good health" as well as his programs, which the president introduced using a medical recovery theme. Reagan installed a gym in the White House and began regularly exercising there, gaining so much muscle that he had to buy new suits. The shooting caused Nancy Reagan to fear for her husband's safety, however. She asked him to not run for reelection in 1984, and, because of her concerns, began consulting astrologer Joan Quigley. Reagan as president never again walked across an airport tarmac or got out of his limousine on a public sidewalk.
Delahanty, McCarthy, and Brady
Thomas Delahanty recovered but suffered permanent nerve damage to his left arm, and was ultimately forced to retire from the Metropolitan Police Department due to his disability. Timothy McCarthy recovered fully and was the first of the wounded men to be discharged from the hospital. James Brady survived, but his wound left him with slurred speech and partial paralysis that required the full-time use of a wheelchair. Brady remained as press secretary for the remainder of Reagan's administration, but this was primarily a titular role. Later, Brady and his wife Sarah became leading advocates of gun control and other actions to reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States. They also became active in the lobbying organization Handgun Control, Inc.—which would eventually be renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence—and founded the non-profit Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed in 1993 as a result of their work. Brady died on August 4, 2014, in Alexandria, Virginia, at the age of 73.
Following James Brady's death on August 4, 2014, the District of Columbia Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide stemming from wounds caused by the Hinckley assassination attempt. This ruling raised the possibility that Hinckley could face additional future murder charges. However, prosecutors declined to do so for two reasons. First, a jury had already declared Hinckley insane at the time of the shooting and the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy would preclude overturning this ruling on account of Brady's death. Second, in 1981 Washington, D.C. still had the common law "year and a day" rule in place. Although the year and a day rule had been abolished in the district prior to 2014, the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto law would preclude the upgrading of charges for deaths resulting today from acts committed while the rule was in effect (and, for that matter, would also prohibit the government from challenging Hinckley's successful insanity defense based on the current federal law).
The shooting of Reagan exacerbated the debate on gun control in the U.S. that began with the December 1980 handgun murder of John Lennon. Reagan expressed opposition to increased handgun control following Lennon's death and re-iterated his opposition after his own shooting. However, in a speech at an event marking the assassination attempt's 10th anniversary, Reagan endorsed the Brady Act:
"Anniversary" is a word we usually associate with happy events that we like to remember: birthdays, weddings, the first job. March 30, however, marks an anniversary I would just as soon forget, but cannot... 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… If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land. And there would be a lot fewer families facing anniversaries such as the Bradys, Delahantys, McCarthys and Reagans face every March 30.
Antenucci and McNamara
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982. The defense psychiatric reports had found him to be insane while the prosecution reports declared him legally sane. Following his lawyers' advice, he declined to take the stand in his own defense. Hinckley was confined at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. full-time until 2006, at which point he began a program of spending gradually more time at his mother's home. On September 10, 2016, Hinckley was permitted to permanently leave the hospital to live with his mother full-time, under court supervision and with mandatory psychiatric treatment. After his trial, he wrote that the shooting was "the greatest love offering in the history of the world", and did not indicate any regrets at the time.
The not-guilty verdict led to widespread dismay, and, as a result, the U.S. Congress and a number of states rewrote laws regarding the insanity defense. The old Model Penal Code test was replaced by a test that shifts the burden of proof regarding a defendant's sanity from the prosecution to the defendant. Three states have abolished the defense altogether.
Jodie Foster was hounded by the media during 1981 because she had been Hinckley's target of obsession. She has only commented on Hinckley on three occasions: a press conference a few days after the attack, an Esquire magazine article she wrote in 1982, and during an interview with Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes II in 1999. She has ended or canceled several interviews after the event was mentioned or if the interviewer was going to bring up Hinckley.
Portrayals in literature and popular culture
- The book Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan (2011) by Del Quentin Wilber
- The book Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency (2015) by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
- The novella John Loves Jodie (2015) by Joe Kelly
The following is the list of the movies dealing with the assassination attempt or portraying a portion of it:
- The 1991 made-for-television film Without Warning: The James Brady Story, dramatizes James Brady's recovery.
- The 2001 Showtime TV movie The Day Reagan Was Shot, loosely-based on events surrounding the assassination attempt, depicts a crazed media frenzy, a divided White House cabinet and staff with little control, and a fictional threat of international crisis.
- The 2003 television film The Reagans, which focuses on Reagan and his family, depicts the assassination attempt.
- The 2016 television film Killing Reagan, based on the 2015 book of the same name by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.
- The musical play Assassins with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman features John Hinckley, Jr. as a character. The musical first opened Off-Broadway in 1990 with Greg Germann playing Hinckley and the Tony Award winning 2004 Broadway production, featured Alexander Gemignani in the role.
- The Suicidal Tendencies song 'I Shot The Devil' references the attempt. In the song, singer Mike Muir states "I shot Reagan / I shot Sadat" (Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt was himself the victim of a similar assassination plot, also in 1981, in which he was killed).
- The Hilltop Hoods song 'Fifty in Five' also references the attempt. In the song, Suffa states "Some guy shot a monster called Reagan so he could bone / A girl named Jodie Foster, if only he'd known".
- In the American Dad! episode "The Best Christmas Story Never Told", the protagonist Stan Smith must assassinate Reagan himself in a timeline where he sobers Martin Scorsese, who ends up not making Taxi Driver, which doesn't motivate Hinckley into shooting Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Reagan is, therefore, not empowered by surviving an assassination attempt and loses the 1984 US Presidential Election to Walter Mondale, who gives complete control of the US to the USSR, which destroys Christmas. Stan later discovers that in his attempt he actually missed James Brady, thereby eliminating the so-called Brady Bill.
- In a 2013 episode of the TV series The Americans, deep cover KGB agents try to determine if a coup is underway, while FBI agents are concerned the Soviet Union may have been involved.
- In a 2018 episode of the TV series Timeless, an alternate history starts to occur when Hinckley is able to flee the assassination attempt scene and goes to the hospital where Reagan is being treated to finish the job. When the time travelers realize this, they go to stop him.
- In a 2019 episode of the Netflix TV series The Politician, Payton Hobart (portrayed by Ben Platt), stressed that one of his classmates would attempt to assassinate him because of his illegitimate high school class presidency, imagines himself in Ronald Reagan's place, recreating the footage of Reagan getting shot. In the same episode, the school play Assassins takes place, leading to a number of references to this event.
- "James Brady's death ruled a homicide, police say". CNN.com. August 9, 2014. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
- Hermann, Peter (August 8, 2014). "Medical examiner rules James Brady's death a homicide". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
- "James Brady's Death Was a Homicide, Medical Examiner Rules". NBCWashington.com. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
- "Remembering the Assassination Attempt on Ronald Reagan". CNN. March 30, 2001. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
- "Medical examiner rules James Brady's death a homicide". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 28, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
- Corasaniti, Nick (August 8, 2014). "Coroner Is Said to Rule James Brady's Death a Homicide, 33 Years After a Shooting". The New York Times. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Reagan assassination attempt.|
- Assassination Attempt of President Ronald Reagan (full length video)
- Treaster, Joseph B. (April 1, 1981). "A Life that Started Out With Much Promise Took Reclusive and Hostile Path". The New York Times. p. A19.
The eldest Hinckley child, Scott, 30, is the vice president of the his father's company and a friend of Neil Bush, the son of Vice President Bush. Scott Hinckley and a date had been invited to dinner at the young Bushes' home last night, but the dinner was canceled after the shooting.