Press Secretary Turned Gun Control Spokesman James Brady Dies at 73

James Brady, who died yesterday at 73, eventually became America’s best-known gun control advocate. But he once had a relatively simpler role: press secretary for President Ronald Reagan.

For a little shot of bipartisanship on a Tuesday morning, here’s current press secretary Josh Earnest talking about how Brady revolutionized the job via The Washington Post:

Of course, even in Earnest’s recount, Brady’s later activism played a larger role in defining him than anything he did as press secretary.

Expect to see differing op-eds on that point this week.

For context, Brady suffered a gunshot to the forehead in 1981 when would-be assassin John Hinckley tried to kill the president in order — he claimed — to impress then-rising star Jodie Foster.

Reporters declared Brady dead, but he lived through years of recovery to become the nation’s most visible advocate and, essentially, top PR rep for advocacy in the gun control space.

The fact that his relationship with Reagan and other top Republicans in congress during the 80’s and 90’s allowed for the passage of 1993’s Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established background checks and waiting periods for those buying guns from federally licensed dealers, demonstrates the influence he continued to wield more than 10 years after leaving public office. Though we all know the bill would never pass today, Reagan himself endorsed it only three years after leaving office.

Via Reuters/The New York Times, here’s Brady celebrating the law’s passage and calling for “a safer and saner country”:

However one may view the bill politically, it continues to influence the firearms industry in this country:

“From 1994 through 2009, over 107 million Brady background checks were conducted. During this period 1.9 million attempted firearm purchases were blocked by the Brady background check system, or 1.8 percent.”

In another sign of change in American politics, Brady later distanced himself from the party he served for decades, endorsing then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

Here is the statement from Dan Gross, president of the still-very active advocacy group Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

“We are heartbroken over the passing of James Brady. 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 2 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.

Known to many as ‘Bear,’ Jim inspired millions with his strength, courage, perseverance and legendary sense of humor. He was also a great personal inspiration to me and my family. When my brother suffered a traumatic brain injury after a shooting at the Empire State Building, Jim and Sarah demonstrated that it was possible to turn a terrible tragedy into real change, and were a big part of the reason I chose to dedicate my own life to preventing gun violence.

I am deeply proud to have called Jim Brady a friend. He will be missed dearly by everyone at our organization, which proudly bears his name, and by a nation that has been made better by his life.

Jim will always remain one of our greatest inspirations as this organization continues to lead the fight for a safer America.”