On March 30th, 1981, an attempted assassination was performed on the US President Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel (DC). The incident took place a mere two months into Reagan’s presidency.
After a speaking engagement at the venue to ALF-CIO representatives, Reagan exited via “President’s Walk” at 2.27pm, where his limousine awaited him., and passed a group of unsearched group of civilians behind a rope line. The assailant emerged with a Röhm RG-14 .22 long rifle blue steel revolver, shooting six times towards the President and his staff. The first bullet buried itself into the head of his White House Press Secretary, James Brady, the second hit Columbia police officer Thomas Delahantey in the back of the neck. Miraculously, the third supposed clear shot missed the president, his life arguably saved by Special Agent Jerry Parr’s prompt reaction in pushing him into the car. Shot four hit agent Timothy McCarthy of the Secret Service in the abdomen, fifth against the bulletproof glass door, and sixth ricocheted off the armored vehicle through Reagan’s left underarm and into his lung, 1 inch from his heart. The whole ordeal lasted 1.7 seconds.
The shooter, John Hinckley claimed that the assassination attempt was to impress actress Jodie Foster, who he had become fascinated with in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. Previously stalking Jimmy Carter, the FBI became aware of him for illegal possession of firearms at Nashville International Airport in October 1980, and in March was being searched for by the police after several notes to Jodie Foster. Hinckley was found not guilty of his actions by reason of insanity, and was referred to a psychiatric ward.
All the casualties survived, however James Brady, who experienced the initial shot, was left paralyzed and permanently disabled. His death in August 2014 was ruled a homicide caused by the gunshot wounds he sustained in 1981.
For Reagan, the event actually worked in his favour, and saw his poll ratings rise. Beforehand he had the lowest approval ratings than any other president during his first term in office. Inevitably security on the President spiked after this event, as people were shocked how easy it was for an attacker to get so close.
Another president’s life at risk (Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy all perished after gun attacks) due to the relatively easy access to guns in Modern America? Read more about the hugely contentious topic of gun control: Tyranny, Tragedy and Terror: The History of Gun Law in the USA
If you enjoyed this article and would like to undertake further reading around this topic, we recommend the book Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Del Wilber Quentin to readers. Unsurprisingly, the book itself has a somewhat favourably slanted view of the President, but Quentin’s thorough retelling of events is gripping and fascinating to both political and historical enthusiasts. The book is available on Amazon in both the UK and the USA.