President Reagan Shot

President Reagan Shot


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On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C. hotel by a deranged drifter named John Hinckley Jr.

The president had just finished addressing a labor meeting at the Washington Hilton Hotel and was walking with his entourage to his limousine when Hinckley, standing among a group of reporters, fired six shots at the president, hitting Reagan and three of his attendants. White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head and critically wounded, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the side, and District of Columbia policeman Thomas Delahanty was shot in the neck. After firing the shots, Hinckley was overpowered and pinned against a wall, and President Reagan, apparently unaware that he’d been shot, was shoved into his limousine by a Secret Service agent and rushed to the hospital.

The president was shot in the left lung, and the .22 caliber bullet just missed his heart. In an impressive feat for a 70-year-old man with a collapsed lung, he walked into George Washington University Hospital under his own power. As he was treated and prepared for surgery, he was in good spirits and quipped to his wife, Nancy, ”Honey, I forgot to duck,” and to his surgeons, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.” Reagan’s surgery lasted two hours, and he was listed in stable and good condition afterward.

READ MORE: How McKinley’s Assassination Spurred Secret Service Presidential Protection

The next day, the president resumed some of his executive duties and signed a piece of legislation from his hospital bed. On April 11, he returned to the White House. Reagan’s popularity soared after the assassination attempt, and at the end of April he was given a hero’s welcome by Congress. In August, this same Congress passed his controversial economic program, with several Democrats breaking ranks to back Reagan’s plan. By this time, Reagan claimed to be fully recovered from the assassination attempt. In private, however, he would continue to feel the effects of the nearly fatal gunshot wound for years.

Of the victims of the assassination attempt, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and D.C. policeman Thomas Delahanty eventually recovered. James Brady, who nearly died after being shot in the eye, suffered permanent brain damage. He later became an advocate of gun control, and in 1993 Congress passed the “Brady Bill,” which established a five-day waiting period and background checks for prospective gun buyers. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law.

After being arrested on March 30, 1981, 25-year-old John Hinckley was booked on federal charges of attempting to assassinate the president. He had previously been arrested in Tennessee on weapons charges. In June 1982, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the trial, Hinckley’s defense attorneys argued that their client was ill with narcissistic personality disorder, citing medical evidence, and had a pathological obsession with the 1976 film Taxi Driver, in which the main character attempts to assassinate a fictional senator.

His lawyers claimed that Hinckley saw the movie more than a dozen times, was obsessed with the lead actress, Jodie Foster, and had attempted to reenact the events of the film in his own life. Thus the movie, not Hinckley, they argued, was the actual planning force behind the events that occurred on March 30, 1981.

The verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” aroused widespread public criticism, and many were shocked that a would-be presidential assassin could avoid been held accountable for his crime. However, because of his obvious threat to society, he was placed in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a mental institution. In the late 1990s, Hinckley’s attorney began arguing that his mental illness was in remission and thus had a right to return to a normal life.

Beginning in August 1999, he was allowed supervised day trips off the hospital grounds and later was allowed to visit his parents once a week unsupervised. The Secret Service voluntarily monitored him during these outings. In 2016, he was given a conditional release to move in with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 2018, a judge ruled he can now live within 75 miles of Williamsburg, provided he meets regularly with his psychiatrist and social worker, among other conditions.


On March 30, 1981, US President Ronald Reagan, who was then only two months into his term, was shot in the lung by John Hinckley, Jr. as he left a speaking engagement in Washington D.C. Several people were injured, most gravely press secretary Jim Brady, who was wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.

The attack represents the last assassination attempt in which a US President was injured. Reagan was rushed to hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery, joking to the doctors that he hoped they were all Republicans.

Hinckley tried to kill Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster, who he had an obsession with after seeing her in Taxi Driver. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity but was committed to psychiatric care until his release in September 2016.


Contents

John Warnock Hinckley Jr. was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, [3] [4] and moved with his wealthy family to Dallas, Texas at the age of four. His late father was John Warnock Hinckley Sr., chairman and president of the Vanderbilt Energy Corporation. His mother is Jo Ann Hinckley (née Moore).

Hinckley grew up in University Park, Texas, [5] and attended Highland Park High School [6] in Dallas County. After Hinckley graduated from high school in 1973, his family, owners of the Hinckley oil company, moved to Evergreen, Colorado, where the new company headquarters was located. [3] He was an off-and-on student at Texas Tech University from 1974 to 1980 but eventually dropped out. [7] In 1975 he went to Los Angeles in the hope of becoming a songwriter. His efforts were unsuccessful, and he wrote to his parents with tales of misfortune and pleas for money. He also spoke of a girlfriend, Lynn Collins, who turned out to be a fabrication. In September 1976, he returned to his parents' home in Evergreen. [8] In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hinckley began purchasing weapons and practicing with them. He was prescribed anti-depressants and tranquilizers to deal with emotional issues. [3]

Hinckley became obsessed with the 1976 film Taxi Driver, in which disturbed protagonist Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) plots to assassinate a presidential candidate. Bickle was partly based on the diaries of Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate George Wallace. [5] Hinckley developed an infatuation with Jodie Foster, who played a sexually trafficked 12-year-old child, Iris Steensma, in the film. [9] When Foster entered Yale University, Hinckley moved to New Haven, Connecticut, for a short time to stalk her. [3] There, he slipped poems and messages under Foster's door, and repeatedly called and left her messages.

Failing to develop any meaningful contact with Foster, Hinckley fantasized about conducting an aircraft hijacking or committing suicide in front of her to get her attention. Eventually, he settled on a scheme to impress her by assassinating the president, thinking that by achieving a place in history, he would appeal to her as an equal. Hinckley trailed President Jimmy Carter from state to state, and was arrested in Nashville, Tennessee, on a firearms charge. Penniless, he returned home. Despite psychiatric treatment for depression, his mental health did not improve. He began to target the newly elected president Ronald Reagan in 1981. For this purpose, he collected material on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Hinckley wrote to Foster just before his attempt on Reagan's life: [10]

Over the past seven months I've left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself. . The reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I cannot wait any longer to impress you.

On March 30, 1981, at 2:27 p.m. EST, [3] Hinckley shot a .22 calibre Röhm RG-14 revolver six times at Reagan as he left the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., after the president addressed an AFL–CIO conference.

Hinckley wounded police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and critically wounded press secretary James Brady. Though Hinckley did not hit Reagan directly, the president was seriously wounded when a bullet ricocheted off the side of the presidential limousine and hit him in the chest. [11] Alfred Antenucci, a Cleveland, Ohio, labor official who stood near Hinckley, and saw him firing, [12] hit Hinckley in the head and pulled him to the ground. [13] Within two seconds agent Dennis McCarthy (no relation to agent Timothy McCarthy) dived onto Hinckley, intent on protecting Hinckley and to avoid what happened to Lee Harvey Oswald. [14] : 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. [15] Brady was shot by Hinckley in the right side of the head, and endured a long recuperation period, remaining paralyzed on the left side of his body [16] until his death on August 4, 2014. Brady's death was ruled a homicide 33 years after the shooting.

At his 1982 trial in Washington, D.C., having been charged with 13 offenses, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21. The defense psychiatric reports portrayed Hinckley as insane while the prosecution reports characterized him as legally sane. [17] Hinckley was transferred into psychiatric care from Bureau of Prisons custody on August 18, 1981. [18] Soon after his trial, Hinckley wrote that the shooting was "the greatest love offering in the history of the world" and was disappointed that Foster did not reciprocate his love. [19]

The verdict resulted in widespread dismay. As a consequence, the United States Congress and a number of states revised laws governing when a defendant may use the insanity defense in a criminal prosecution. Idaho, Montana, and Utah abolished the defense altogether. [20] In the United States, before the Hinckley case, the insanity defense had been used in less than 2% of all felony cases and was unsuccessful in almost 75% of those trials. [17] Public outcry over the verdict led to the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, which altered the rules for consideration of mental illness of defendants in federal criminal court proceedings. [3] In 1985, Hinckley's parents wrote Breaking Points, a book detailing their son's mental condition. [17]

Changes in federal and some state rules of evidence laws have since excluded or restricted the use of testimony of an expert witness, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, regarding conclusions on "ultimate" issues in insanity defense cases, including whether a criminal defendant is legally "insane", [21] but this is not the rule in most states. [22]

Vincent J. Fuller, an attorney who represented Hinckley during his trial and for several years afterward, said Hinckley has schizophrenia. [23] Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, diagnosed Hinckley with narcissistic and schizoid personality disorders and dysthymia, as well as borderline and passive-aggressive features. [24] At the hospital Hinckley was treated for narcissistic and schizotypal personality disorder and major depressive disorder. [25]

Hinckley was confined at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. [17] After Hinckley was admitted, tests found that he was an "unpredictably dangerous" man who might harm himself or any third party. In 1983, he told Penthouse that on a normal day he would "see a therapist, answer mail, play guitar, listen to music, play pool, watch television, eat lousy food and take delicious medication". [26] Around 1987, Hinckley applied for a court order allowing him periodic home visits. As part of the consideration of the request, the judge ordered Hinckley's hospital room searched. Hospital officials found photographs and letters in Hinckley's room that showed a continued obsession with Foster, as well as evidence that Hinckley had exchanged letters with serial killer Ted Bundy and sought the address of the incarcerated Charles Manson, who had inspired Lynette Fromme to try to kill President of the United States Gerald Ford. The court denied Hinckley's request for additional privileges.

In 1999, Hinckley was permitted to leave the hospital for supervised visits with his parents. In April 2000, the hospital recommended allowing unsupervised releases but a month later they removed the request. Hinckley was allowed supervised visits with his parents again during 2004 and 2005. Court hearings were held in September 2005 on whether he could have expanded privileges to leave the hospital.

On December 30, 2005, a federal judge ruled that Hinckley would be allowed visits, supervised by his parents, to their home in Williamsburg, Virginia. The judge ruled that Hinckley could have up to three visits of three nights and then four visits of four nights, each depending on the successful completion of the last. All of the experts who testified at Hinckley's 2005 conditional release hearing, including the government experts, agreed that his depression and psychotic disorder were in full remission and that he should have some expanded conditions of release. [27]

In 2007, Hinckley requested further freedoms, including two one-week visits with his parents, and a month-long visit. U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman denied that request on June 6, 2007.

On June 17, 2009, Judge Friedman ruled that Hinckley would be permitted to visit his mother for a dozen visits of 10 days at a time, rather than six, to spend more time outside of the hospital, and to have a driver's license. The court also ordered that Hinckley be required to carry a GPS-enabled cell phone to track him whenever he was outside of his parents' home. He was prohibited from speaking with the news media. [28] The prosecutors objected to this ruling, saying that Hinckley was still a danger to others and had unhealthy and inappropriate thoughts about women. Hinckley recorded a song, "Ballad of an Outlaw", which the prosecutors claim is "reflecting suicide and lawlessness". [29]

In March 2011, it was reported that a forensic psychologist at the hospital testified that "Hinckley has recovered to the point that he poses no imminent risk of danger to himself or others". [28] On March 29, 2011, the day before the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt, Hinckley's attorney filed a court petition requesting more freedom for his client, including additional unsupervised visits to the Virginia home of Hinckley's mother, Joanne. [30] On November 30, 2011, a hearing in Washington was held to consider whether he could live full-time outside the hospital. The Justice Department opposed this, stating that Hinckley still poses a danger to the public. Justice Department counsel argued that Hinckley had been known to deceive his doctors in the past. [31] [32]

By December 2013, the court ordered that visits be extended to his mother, who lives near Williamsburg. Hinckley was permitted up to eight 17-day visits, with evaluation after the completion of each one. [33]

On August 4, 2014, James Brady died. As Hinckley had critically wounded Brady in 1981, the death was ruled a homicide. [34] Hinckley did not face charges as a result of Brady's death because he had been found not guilty of the original crime by reason of insanity. [35] In addition, since Brady's death occurred more than 33 years after the shooting, prosecution of Hinckley was barred under the year and a day law in effect in the District of Columbia at the time of the shooting. [36]

Release Edit

On July 27, 2016, a federal judge ruled that Hinckley could be released from St. Elizabeths on August 5, [37] as he was no longer considered a threat to himself or others. [37] [38] [39] [40]

Hinckley was released from institutional psychiatric care on September 10, 2016, with many conditions. He was required to live full-time at his mother's home in Williamsburg. [2] In addition, the following prohibitions and requirements were imposed on him. [41] [42]

  • using alcohol
  • possessing any firearms, ammunition, other weapons, or memorabilia of Jodie Foster, e.g. photos, or magazine articles
  • contacting Reagan's family, Brady's family, Jodie Foster, Foster's family, or Foster's agent
  • from watching or listening to violent movies, television, or compact discs
  • from accessing printed or onlinepornography
  • online access to violent movies, television, music, novels or magazines
  • speaking to the press
  • visiting homes, past homes, or graves of the current president, past presidents, or certain past or present government officials
  • driving from his mother's home more than 30 mi (48 km) unattended or 50 mi (80 km) when attended
  • erasing his computer's web browser history
  • to work at least 3 days per week
  • to leave immediately if he finds himself approaching prohibited places
  • to record his browser history

Although the court ordered a risk assessment to be completed within 18 months of his release, it had not been done as of May 2018 [update] . [43]

On November 16, 2018, Judge Friedman ruled Hinckley could move out of his mother’s house in Virginia and live on his own upon location approval from his doctors. [27] As of September 2019, Hinckley's attorney said he plans to ask for full, unconditional release by the end of the year from the court orders that determine where he can live. [44]

American new wave band Devo recorded a song "I Desire" for their fifth studio album, Oh, No! It's Devo (1982), which brought the band controversy because the lyrics were taken directly from a poem written by Hinckley. [45] Another new wave band, Wall of Voodoo, released a song about Hinckley and his life titled "Far Side of Crazy" (1985), with the name itself also being a quotation from his poetry. [46] Singer-songwriter Carmaig de Forest devoted a verse of his song "Hey Judas" to Hinckley, blaming him for Reagan's increased popularity following the assassination attempt. [47] [48]

Hinckley is featured as a character of the Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman musical Assassins (1990), in which he and Lynette Fromme sing "Unworthy Of Your Love", a duet about their respective obsessions with Foster and Charles Manson. Hinckley's life leading up to the assassination attempt is fictionalized in the 2015 novel Calf by Andrea Kleine. The novel also includes a fictionalization of Hinckley's former girlfriend, Leslie deVeau, whom he met at St Elizabeths Hospital. [49] [50] [51]

Hinckley is portrayed by Steven Flynn in the American television film, Without Warning: The James Brady Story (1991). Hinckley appears as a character in the television film The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001), portrayed by Christian Lloyd. He was portrayed by Kevin Woodhouse in the television film The Reagans (2003). Hinckley is portrayed by Kyle S. More in the movie Killing Reagan, released in 2016.

In October 2020, a ruling was issued that Hinckley may showcase his artwork, writings, and music publicly under his own name, rather than anonymously as he had in the past. He could also sell his work if able, but his treatment team could rescind the display privilege if deemed necessary. [52] Hinckley has since created a YouTube channel where he has been posting videos of himself performing original songs with a guitar, as well as covers of songs such as “Blowin' in the Wind” by Bob Dylan and the Elvis Presley song “Can't Help Falling in Love”. Hinckley started posting videos to the site in December 2020. [53] [54] His subscribers totaled over 16,000 by June 2021. [55]

On June 6, 2021, Hinckley announced in a Youtube video that he was working on an album and trying to find a record label to release it with. [56] According to Hinckley himself, his original songs "Something Better", "May Your Lovelight Show","We Are Drifting on the Sea", "I Was Down and Out", "Love For Real", and "Till the Day is Done" will be included in the album.


Al Haig and the Reagan Assassination Attempt — “I’m in control here”

When President Ronald Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981, chaos ensued behind the scenes at the White House. With no real protocol in place for such a situation, everyone involved had to improvise and hope that everything would turn out right. In an attempt to keep everyone calm, Al Haig, Reagan’s Secretary of State, committed a PR faux pas — and showed a glaring lapse in basic knowledge of the Constitution — by telling the press that he was in control while the President was in surgery. Unaware of just how serious the President’s condition really was, key officials began to do their best damage control and keep not only the reporters calm but the country and the world at large.

G. Philip Hughes, the Vice President’s Deputy Foreign Policy Advisor, Samuel Gammon, the Executive Assistant in Management, and John Kelly, at the Secretariat at the Department of State, all watched the Haig incident unfold and tell their respective stories leading up to Haig’s misinterpreted declaration of power. Hughes was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in August 1997. Gammon was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in February 1989. Kelly was interviewed by Thomas Stern beginning in December 1995. Reagan’s would-be assassin, John Hinkley Jr., was released in July 2016.

You can also read about Haig’s embarrassment after a Nicaraguan soldier recanted regarding Cuban involvement in El Salvador, his run-in with the ambassador over U.S. policy in El Salvador, and his yelling match with an FSO who quit because of disagreements on bombing Cambodia. Go here to read about the events that led to his resignation.

Flushed and Frazzled

HUGHES: When the assassination attempt on President Reagan occurred,… Al Haig came to the White House and he convened a meeting of the NSC to go over the situation with Reagan’s advisors. There was of course great public anxiety, and someone had to go up and make a press statement.

Either Haig nominated himself or someone nominated him but in any event he walked into the press room breathless. I remember watching this on TV from my office. He walked into the press room breathless. He looked perfectly flushed and frazzled….

The Vice President had been notified and he was flying back from Texas and in the meantime Al Haig was in control at the White House. A particularly infelicitous choice of words which, I think, already in the minds of many Reagan supporters and staff, for Al Haig to come up and say that “I, Al Haig, am in control here at the White House,” just convinced many people that, first of all he was intemperate and injudicious and not suited for the role, and further that he had vast ambitions of power in the administration which were not in keeping with the way that Reagan cabinet secretaries were expected to behave.

So frankly then there were a whole bunch of battles after that and Mr. Haig passed from the scene.

“It sounded like a putsch!”

GAMMON: This is too good an anecdote to miss, the afternoon that Reagan was shot. Richard Kennedy had taken Read’s post as Under Secretary for Management.

I had known Dick since he was one of Kissinger’s people in the NSC in my S/S [Secretary’s staff] incarnation some years earlier. He got the phone call that the President had been shot.

He very properly grabbed me and one other staffer, and we flew down the corridor to the Operations Center of the Department which has superior communications.

We plugged in then, because Al Haig, as we all remember, went darting over to the White House very properly. Al’s instincts were right in every respect except his PR instinct was abysmal.

Haig went on television and said ‘I’m in control here and not to worry.’ But his sound instinct in this type of situation of passing the message to everybody that the U.S. government continues and there’s no problem miscarried in his delivery– [it] sounded like a putsch! Well, we did not know then and we didn’t find out until many months later how serious the shooting was. At the time the early word was that the President was okay.…

We were in the Ops Center from about 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon until 9:30 at night until he came out of surgery. The first thing we did was we sent for the emergency manual. There is of course a manual in the Department for everything. The emergency book was still called the Carter-Mondale Book.

The only thing it covered was the death of a president in an assassination it was based on Kennedy, what you knew. It had the standard operating procedure, you do this and you do that, you get somebody from the historical office to make sure that there’s a good historical record and reassuring messages to, the whole schmeer was all in there, except it did not cover what we then saw very clearly might be the real contingency until we were told, “Oh, poo poo, it was minor.”

Which was a lie. The Kennedy/Lincoln model is not the only one — there is also the Garfield and the McKinley. What do you do about the 25th Amendment and the long lingering total incapacity and the Wilson precedent?

The first thing I did the next day was to ask the Ops Center to redo the book, taking into account the 25th Amendment, having some other contingency situation other than the fatal, an airplane crash or an assassination or a fatal abrupt cutting off of the presidency, to take account of the whole middle ground area that might develop–which I have reason to believe they did, I never saw the final product.

“It was an unfortunate use of words, which was blown all out of proportion”

KELLY: We were hard at work that afternoon I was in my Deputy Executive Secretary’s office which was adjacent to the Secretary’s office when I heard that the President was shot. Like everyone else, we turned on our TVs. Haig was in his office.

At first, of course, we heard a lot of misinformation or poor information. When it became clear that the President had been seriously wounded, Haig asked for a briefing on the Constitutional process that determines succession. I think that was very appropriate the senior member of the Cabinet should be up-to-date on this question.

There was some confusion in the senior levels of the government.…The President was totally incommunicado the Vice President was on an airplane heading for Hawaii. Haig talked to others as well and it became clear that no one was doing anything to bring the panic under control. By mid-afternoon, the world knew that the President was in serious condition, but not much else.

Larry Speakes, the White House spokesperson, went on TV and did not make a reassuring appearance it was clear that he was very shaken as was all of the White House staff. In the Department, we knew, based on previous similar experiences, that the U.S. had to assure its allies and adversaries that its government was functioning normally that despite the temporary loss of its leader, the U.S. had the situation well in hand….

I and someone from L [the State Department’s Legal Bureau] probably drafted a “flash” message to all our embassies overseas, telling them what we knew the situation to be, including the President’s medical situation and requesting that they convey to their host governments reassurance that the situation was under control.

Some of the Assistant Secretaries were on the phone talking to some foreign leaders, some of whom had called the White House and may not have been put at ease by Dick Allen, the National Security Advisor or whoever they may have talked to.

In any case, Haig saw the necessity to calm the fears in other capitals. So I thought the Secretary was approaching the issue as it was supposed to be addressed.

In one of his conversation with [Counselor to the President and later Attorney General Edwin] Meese, Haig suggested that the Cabinet be convened, which was done.

There ensued an alleged argument between Haig and [Secretary of Defense Casper] Weinberger which has been widely reported in the press. It was reported that Weinberger, on his own authority, had raised the “alert” status of our armed forces.

This was a subject that Haig knew far better than Weinberger he felt that in absence of any threat the alert level should not be changed and that, on the contrary, this action gave just the opposite impression from the one that was to be conveyed, i.e., normalcy.

The last thing that was needed was to get into an accidental conflict. So the Secretaries of State and Defense had a clear difference of opinion. Speakes appeared again in public, still looking shaken and unsure. We saw Speakes on the TV, but we didn’t know whether the Cabinet was also watching in the Situation Room.

So we called the Sit Room and asked that a message be passed to Secretary Haig. We suggested that someone of stature appear on TV to reassure the country and the world because we thought that Speakes was falling far short of doing that. We may have overstepped the boundaries of our responsibilities, but we did send such a message.

Sometime after that, Haig ran up to the press room and made his famous statement that “I am in control here” in answer to a question. It was an unfortunate phrase because all he wanted to convey that he was the senior Cabinet officer present there is no doubt in my mind that he was not trying to usurp the prerogatives of various officials, but his comment contributed to Haig’s reputation as a “hot head.”

It was just an unfortunate use of words, which was blown all out of proportion.


Today in History: President Reagan was Shot

On March 30th, 1981, President Ronald Reagan left a Washington DC Hilton Hotel to get into his limousine and was shot by a drifter named John Hinckley Jr. After addressing a labor meeting at the hotel, Reagan exited with his entourage when Hinckley fired six shots towards the group. White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the side, and DC policeman Thomas Delahanty was shot in the neck.

The president was shot in the left lung. A Secret Service agent got him into his car, and he was rushed to the hospital. He was taken into surgery and was in good spirits. The surgery lasted two hours and he was then listed as stable.

After the assassination attempt, Reagan soared in popularity. Although he publicly claimed to be fully recovered just a few short months later, he continued to feel the effects of the near-fatal injury for years.

As for Hinckley, the court ruled he was "not guilty by reason of insanity," which was quite controversial given the serious nature of his offense. He spent many years in St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution. Then, in August of 1999, he was permitted supervised day trips off the hospital grounds, followed up with his conditional release in 2016.


President Reagan Shot

On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C., hotel by a deranged drifter named John Hinckley Jr.

The president had just finished addressing a labor meeting at the Washington Hilton Hotel and was walking with his entourage to his limousine when Hinckley, standing among a group of reporters, fired six shots at the president, hitting Reagan and three of his attendants. White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head and critically wounded, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the side, and District of Columbia policeman Thomas Delahaney was shot in the neck. After firing the shots, Hinckley was overpowered and pinned against a wall, and President Reagan, apparently unaware that he’d been shot, was shoved into his limousine by a Secret Service agent and rushed to the hospital.

The president was shot in the left lung, and the .22 caliber bullet just missed his heart. In an impressive feat for a 70-year-old man with a collapsed lung, he walked into George Washington University Hospital under his own power. As he was treated and prepared for surgery, he was in good spirits and quipped to his wife, Nancy, ”Honey, I forgot to duck,” and to his surgeons, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.” Reagan’s surgery lasted two hours, and he was listed in stable and good condition afterward.

The next day, the president resumed some of his executive duties and signed a piece of legislation from his hospital bed. On April 11, he returned to the White House. Reagan’s popularity soared after the assassination attempt, and at the end of April he was given a hero’s welcome by Congress. In August, this same Congress passed his controversial economic program, with several Democrats breaking ranks to back Reagan’s plan. By this time, Reagan claimed to be fully recovered from the assassination attempt. In private, however, he would continue to feel the effects of the nearly fatal gunshot wound for years.

Of the victims of the assassination attempt, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and D.C. policeman Thomas Delahaney eventually recovered. James Brady, who nearly died after being shot in the eye, suffered permanent brain damage. He later became an advocate of gun control, and in 1993 Congress passed the “Brady Bill,” which established a five-day waiting period and background checks for prospective gun buyers. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law.

After being arrested on March 30, 1981, 25-year-old John Hinckley was booked on federal charges of attempting to assassinate the president. He had previously been arrested in Tennessee on weapons charges. In June 1982, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the trial, Hinckley’s defense attorneys argued that their client was ill with narcissistic personality disorder, citing medical evidence, and had a pathological obsession with the 1976 film Taxi Driver, in which the main character attempts to assassinate a fictional senator. His lawyers claimed that Hinckley saw the movie more than a dozen times, was obsessed with the lead actress, Jodie Foster, and had attempted to reenact the events of the film in his own life. Thus the movie, not Hinckley, they argued, was the actual planning force behind the events that occurred on March 30, 1981.

The verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” aroused widespread public criticism, and many were shocked that a would-be presidential assassin could avoid been held accountable for his crime. However, because of his obvious threat to society, he was placed in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a mental institution. In the late 1990s, Hinckley’s attorney began arguing that his mental illness was in remission and thus had a right to return to a normal life. Beginning in August 1999, he was allowed supervised day trips off the hospital grounds and later was allowed to visit his parents once a week unsupervised. The Secret Service voluntarily monitors him during these outings. If his mental illness remains in remission, he may one day be released.


Memories of the attempted Reagan assassination

On March 30, 1981, fewer than 100 days into President Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate the president outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. Reagan was injured by a single bullet, and through the Miller Center's Ronald Reagan Oral History Project, members of his administration recall their thoughts and experiences that day.

RICHARD V. ALLEN: Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Anyway, so I said, “Mr. President, we’re having a national security briefing today,” and he said, “Okay” [low weak voice] so weak. I said, “There it is, and you’ve had your national security briefing, congratulations, Mr. President.” Deaver was in the room, I forget who else was in the room.

Just after the assassination attempt, James Brady and police officer Thomas Delahanty lie wounded on the ground.

And he said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, what’s that in there?” And I had a big stack of these cards. He said, “What’s that?” I said, “These are cards from the kindergarten class of Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Mr. President.” He said, “Let me see them.” I handed them over and he started to go through them, one by one. He went through, read every card. There must have been 25 cards in there. So he said, “Which one’s your daughter’s?” I said, “It’s one that’s in there.” So that was the card that she had written. She wrote two actually, and then she wrote this one, “Dear President Reagan, get better.” So he said, “Give me your pen.” . . .

[The Miller Center’s] Russell Riley: [reading] “President Reagan, Please get better, Love, Kim Allen.” And then, in his handwriting below: “Dear Kim, forgive me for using your card for my answer, but I wanted to let you know how very much I appreciate your good wishes and your lovely card, Love, Ronald Reagan, April 15, 1981.”

The Röhm RG-14 revolver used in the assassination attempt. This gun is on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

MARTIN ANDERSON: Assistant to the President for Policy Development

There’s all kind of thinking that goes on. There have been books, a Stanford professor wrote a book about this. There are a few—I’ll be semi-charitable—but there is an academic view of what should happen. Basically the academic view is, you’ve got the President in charge, he’s in control. Something happens to the President, who’s in control and who’s in charge? Wrong, that’s not the way it works. It is not like throwing a light switch.

I think what happened that day is probably a clearer example of it. When we got the information that he had been shot, we did not know the seriousness of it. We did not know if he was dead, we didn’t know how wounded he was, we just knew he had been shot. Now, what happened was, and no one can seem to understand this is—nothing. You wait. You find out what the situation is. You don’t rush off and assume, “Oh my God, he’s been shot, we’re going to put the Vice President in charge.” Or you don’t say, “Well, he’s been shot but he’s in charge so let’s talk to him and see what he is going to do.” You wait and say, “Well, let’s see what happens.” And people were very calm and they just settled down.

It is amazing how much goes on in the government, in the White House, without someone “controlling” it. It works, people do things. Life proceeds. They were just very careful. They took slight steps, they checked to make sure this wasn’t an overall plot. They checked to see where the Soviet submarines were and the Soviet submarines were a little bit out of their normal course and closer to our shores than they were supposed to be, so they checked that out. Then a little while later they said, “Well, that’s not a problem”—and there were more submarines, and they said, “Wait a minute, what’s going on here.” Then they discovered it was the end of the month and that actually they were changing battalions and so they had more submarines, there were always more submarines. They didn’t act precipitously and the academic mind can’t understand that.

In terms of his policies, there was no change at all. He had been working on these for a long time they were set in place. We knew what he wanted to do. He basically had laid it all in place and we just proceeded to try to get it done, but he never changed any policies that I saw.

MAX FRIEDERSDORF: Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs

I went over to GW hospital, and went up to the President’s room, and Jim was outside the room with Mrs. Reagan and her secret service agent there and Jim said, “Max, I want you to stay here until I tell you to leave.” I didn’t understand. Mrs. Reagan was all upset, of course. He said that Senator [Strom] Thurmond had come over to the hospital and had talked his way in, past the lobby, up to the President’s room—he’s in intensive care, tubes coming out of his nose and his throat, tubes in his arms and everything—and said that Strom Thurmond had talked his way past the secret service into his room and Mrs. Reagan was outraged, distraught. She couldn’t believe her eyes.

He said, “You know, those guys are crazy. They come over here trying to get a picture in front of the hospital and trying to talk to the President when he may be on his deathbed. You stay here until I tell you to leave. If any Congressman or Senator comes around here, make sure the secret service doesn’t let anybody up, even on this floor.” So I stayed there for about three days, four days, until he came out of intensive care.

He stayed in the hospital about ten days. Other members came later, a very, very few. Howard Baker came. I think Mrs. Reagan made an exception with Tip and probably Howard Baker—those are the only two I can remember when I was there.

So Tip came down, he did go in, and it was rather poignant. I stayed in the room. Mrs. Reagan, I think she slipped out. I don’t think she was in there. But Tip got down on his knees next to the bed and said a prayer for the President and he held his hand and kissed him and they said a prayer together. One about, what is it? Walking by still waters, the psalm-The 23 rd psalm. The Speaker stayed there quite a while. They never talked too much. I just heard him say the prayer, then I heard him say, God bless you, Mr. President, we’re all praying for you. The Speaker was crying. The President still, I think, was a little, he was obviously sedated, but I think he knew it was the Speaker because he said, I appreciate you coming down, Tip. He held his hand, sat there by the bed and held his hand for a long.

Then I think he went home after ten days, but he couldn’t come downstairs in the White House. He stayed up in the residence for a long time recuperating. So we’d have to have meetings up there. Bless his heart, he’d be riding an exercise machine trying to get his strength back. He’d have a pair of jeans on with a T-shirt. He was about 70 then, maybe 71. He had a physique like a 30-year-old muscle builder—he really had big shoulders and chest, and I think his physical condition saved his life. He was up there lifting weights and riding the bike, trying to get built back up. Incredible constitution. It wasn’t too long before he was back in the office, going about his business. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.

President Reagan returned to the White House on April 11, 1981, less than two weeks after the assassination attempt of March 30.

KENNETH KHACHIGIAN: Chief Speechwriter

I went down to the situation room where that famous scene between Al Haig and Cap Weinberger happened, and then I followed Haig back up to the briefing room when he said he was in control. Quite a day. Then the White House just went into this sort of quiet period. The President came out of danger, and we didn’t have the same urgency in the process. It gave us all time to organize a little more and get caught up. The President, of course, survived the shot. I can’t remember how many days he was in the hospital. Then he came back. But we had lost Jim Brady, basically, because he had severe brain damage. That was a big loss, because Jim was very, very likable, was a great personality around the White House and was a great press secretary. He was given a little bit to being flippant and whatnot, but the press liked him a lot. That was a really big loss.

The security changed, obviously, became stricter. There was a period of time between the President’s shooting and then later on the bombing of the barracks in Beirut, and then they finally shut off Pennsylvania Avenue. But not right afterwards. I don’t think there was a big change. The White House slowed down a great, great deal, and there was a lot of focus on just waiting for the President to get well. But I can’t tell you that there were any big changes.

JAMES C. MILLER: Director Office of Management and Budget

We were in the Roosevelt Room, meeting about the next steps in the regulatory relief effort. We literally walked out of the Roosevelt Room and a lady comes out of the press office, screaming to the deputy press secretary, Larry Speakes: “Larry, Larry, the President has been shot at and Jim Brady has been shot!” It was pandemonium there, but it was controlled pandemonium. There were some reports later. They said we knew the President had been shot, it was serious and this and that. Not true. I was there.

[Dick] Darman picked up the phone immediately and asked for “Signal,” which is the White House military switchboard. “What’s going on?” About that time Jim Baker arrived. Baker grabbed the phone from him, and said, “I don’t understand this. If he’s fine, if he’s okay, why are they going to GW [George Washington University] Hospital? I don’t understand this.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw [David] Gergen running across. He had Meese in tow and then [Michael] Deaver came running in. They threw the phone down, ran, jumped in the car—they’d brought the car around front—and took off for GW.

The notion that they knew all along that something was seriously wrong is not correct. They found out when they arrived at the hospital, but they didn’t know in that immediate response. But the President was quite ill. It was a life-threatening thing. . . . the assassination attempt was a big setback. When I met with the President a few days later, I was really alarmed at how weak his voice was.

LYN NOFZIGER: Assistant to the President for Political Affairs

I went into the emergency room, and I ran into one of the advance men there. I said, “You know, you ought to be taking notes, and you ought to go home and get a tape recorder and talk all this into a tape recorder, because this is going to be historical.” I don’t know whether he ever did or not, but I grabbed some pieces of paper from the nurses’ station there, the forms with the blanks.

And I began jotting down notes, these things that Reagan had said—or it was reported to us that he said—such as to Nancy, “On the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia.” Paul Laxalt had come over, so there was Meese— Oh, and we had sent Speakes back to the White House to handle the press there, which was proper. Somebody had to be there. It was decided that he would do that, and I would handle the press at the hospital.

So Laxalt and Meese and Baker and I are standing there, and they bring Reagan out of this little emergency room where they’ve had him, and they’re going to take him into the operating room. As they wheel him by on the gurney, he says— Baker said he winked at me. I never saw him wink, but I’ll take that. Reagan did say, “Who’s minding the store?” I learned later, of course, that the doctors had cut his suit off of him. Now, Reagan’s kind of a tightwad, and he was just furious, “You’re ruining my suit.” To hell with the fact that I’m dying, you’re ruining my suit.

He told Deaver after he was shot that he felt that God had saved him for a specific purpose, and that he would try to remember that. I think he thought that that purpose was to stand up to and get rid of communism, because he certainly became determined.

The FBI mug shot of John Hinckley Jr. taken shortly after the assassination attempt

STUART SPENCER: Campaign Strategist

The only change I saw—he had an energy level problem for a while coming back. He almost died. There was a big change in her. She was scared to death after that. She even lobbied not to run again. She had real qualms. If she asked me once, she asked me fifteen times whether he should run again or not. It wasn’t the fear of winning or losing. Every time he went out after that, she had a fear of him getting shot. Why did she talk to Joan Quigley and all these astrologers? She was looking for help. She might have gone in to see the priest to try to get help. It was that sort of a grasp. You and I can understand it. He was very fatalistic about it, but she was scared to death. Big change in her.

CASPAR WEINBERGER: Secretary of Defense

I had responsibilities, and I felt that I should exercise them. I didn’t know what the Soviets were doing, what the nature of this attack had been—whether it was a single madman, or whether it was some sort of concerted effort. I even had in mind the [Abraham] Lincoln assassination, where there was a concerted effort, and several of the members of the Cabinet—including the Secretary of War—had been attacked the same night. I felt that the troops should have a higher degree of alert and be ready for anything that might occur, even though, fortunately, it did not. It was the work of a single madman.

They had to work their way through that to get down to get this bullet. He said it was incredible, the physical development and the strength that was there. Getting an explosive bullet out under any circumstances is a reasonably hazardous enterprise, but his recovery was very complete and very quick—amazingly quick—although I didn’t think it was going to be. I saw him a couple of days after the operation, and he looked completely deflated. I thought it would be months or years before he would ever be able to regain his capabilities. It was a matter of a few weeks.

LISTEN: Caspar Weinberger remembers

As part of our Oral History Program, Miller Center experts have spent hundreds of hours debriefing key members of every presidential administration from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush.


The Presidential Public Health Failure History Forgot

When health experts warned the president that a dangerous virus had emerged in the United States, he took swift action to protect the public.

No, not Donald Trump and the coronavirus, or Barack Obama and H1N1 influenza in 2009, or even Woodrow Wilson and the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic . The year was 1976, the president was Gerald Ford , and what followed illustrates the peril of trying to lead a country through a public health emergency.

On Feb. 4, 1976, Army Pvt. David Lewis, 19, collapsed and died after ignoring doctor’s orders and participating in a five-mile nighttime march at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Several weeks before, the Army had noticed many personnel at Fort Dix had contracted a respiratory illness, and brought in state and federal health officials to investigate.

Nine days after Lewis’ death, the federal Center for Disease Control (now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) determined that influenza, specifically swine flu, had felled the young soldier. Although there had been isolated cases of swine flu in the United States since 1930, those people caught the virus from pigs. There had been no evidence of the virus passing from person to person.

As many as 500 people at Fort Dix had been exposed to the virus, including 14 who became ill. Lewis would prove to be the only person on Earth known to die from swine flu that year, and U.S. health authorities found no additional human-to-human cases of swine flu. The World Health Organization and other nations also did not detect additional transmissions.

But public health officials were terrified of the possibility of a viral pandemic, like the one that had killed 50 million people worldwide and 575,000 in the United States in 1918: the Spanish flu , which was also an H1N1 strain of influenza. The Spanish flu was highly contagious and deadly, and so much time had elapsed since 1918 that Americans younger than 50 had no natural immunity to the virus.

Inside the federal health care bureaucracy, top officials immediately started formulating plans for a major vaccination campaign. Within just a few weeks, Ford announced to the nation that his administration would buy enough vaccine doses to inoculate about 200 million people and oversee a national vaccination program. Eventually, the Democrat-led Congress endorsed the program with two new laws.

Nothing on that scale had ever been attempted, even for polio or smallpox. That well-intentioned response still stands as one of the worst public health failures in U.S. history.

The biggest difference between Ford’s failed swine flu program and Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is that Ford tried to do too much, while Trump has resisted stronger public health actions from the beginning.

Less than one-quarter of the population received the swine flu inoculation, and the vaccine itself was associated with a paralyzing immune disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which caused more deaths than the virus it was supposed to prevent.

All medicines can cause side effects, including vaccines. Immunization programs like those for polio and smallpox are designed with that in mind, and with an aim toward protecting far more people than they harm. In the case of swine flu, there were only risks and no benefits, because an outbreak never occurred.

The Specter Of The Spanish Flu

Ford was only 5 years old during the Spanish flu pandemic, but the devastating outbreak loomed large in the cultural memory, as did the especially deadly pandemics of seasonal influenza during the winters of 1957-1958 and 1968-1969, when schemes to immunize the U.S. population failed.

The matter rapidly moved from the federal health agencies to the White House, driven by David Mathews, the secretary of health, education and welfare, Theodore Cooper, assistant secretary for health, and CDC Director David Sencer, each of whom favored an aggressive response. (In 1979, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, also known as HEW, was split into the departments of Health and Human Services and Education.)

Six weeks after Lewis died at Fort Dix, Mathews wrote the White House Office of Management and Budget director, James Lynn, with dire warnings about a looming swine flu outbreak.

“There is evidence there will be a major flu epidemic this coming fall. The indication is that we will see a return of the 1918 flu virus that is the most virulent form of flu,” Mathews wrote on March 15. “In 1918, a half million people died. The projections are that this virus will kill one million Americans in 1976.”

One million deaths would amount to nearly 60 times the fatalities caused by the seasonal flu each year at the time.

This article draws from a book titled “ The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease ,” published in 1977 by Richard Neustadt and Harvey Fineberg of Harvard University at the behest of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. HuffPost also reviewed documents from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, contemporary reporting by The New York Times and The Washington Post, and an account of the campaign published in 2006 by Sencer and Donald Millar, who was the director of Ford’s immunization program.

Health officials led by the HEW’s Cooper provided Mathews and Ford with a range of options that included a national vaccination program, doing nothing at all and several alternatives in between. But the language in that March 13 memorandum from the HEW strongly suggested that the Ford administration do something big and fast.

“The situation is one of ‘go or no go.’ If extraordinary measures are to be undertaken, there is barely enough time to assure adequate vaccine production and to mobilize the nation’s health care delivery system,” the memo read. “Any extensive immunization program would have to be in full-scale operation by the beginning of September and should not last beyond the end of November 1976. A decision must be made now.”

After meeting with his health officials and outside scientists at the White House on March 22 and March 24, Ford made a fast decision to vaccinate the entire country.

“I think you ought to gamble on the side of caution. I would always rather be ahead of the curve than behind it,” Ford told Neustadt and Fineberg for their book.

Ford was facing a difficult reelection campaign. Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan was dogging him with a Republican primary challenge, and the looming general election against the Democratic former governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, was not far off. Swine flu didn’t end Ford’s presidency, but it didn’t help, either.

Decisiveness And Haste

Ford held a press conference March 24 to announce the swine flu vaccination program. In addition to senior health officials and White House aides, Ford was flanked by two pioneers of the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, who endorsed the plan. So did the American Medical Association and the Red Cross.

“One month ago, a strain of influenza sometimes known as swine flu was discovered and isolated among Army recruits at Fort Dix, New Jersey,” Ford told reporters that day. “The appearance of this strain has caused concern within the medical community, because this virus is very similar to one that caused a widespread and very deadly flu epidemic late in the First World War.”

“I have been advised that there is a very real possibility that unless we take effective counteractions, there could be an epidemic of this dangerous disease next fall and winter here in the United States,” he continued. “Let me state clearly at this time, no one knows exactly how serious this threat could be. Nevertheless, we cannot afford to take a chance with the health of our nation.”

From Ford’s perspective, this potential crisis and the complexity of responding to it presented a strong possibility of a no-win situation. Do nothing, or very little, and he risked the lives of Americans during what happened to be an election year. Attempt a major national initiative, and he risked failure. The chances that neither would happen and there would be no swine flu epidemic weren’t deeply considered.

“This administration can tolerate unnecessary health expenditures better than unnecessary death and illness,” Sencer wrote in a March 1976 memo.

Yet, there was no unnecessary death or illness except what the vaccine itself caused. Nine months after it was announced, the vaccination program died an unceremonious death and Ford’s presidency earned another black mark.

Dissent Unheeded

Ford believed he had unanimous consensus from health officials and outside scientific advisers to move forward with the vaccination program. But there were those in the CDC, HEW and the broader medical community who favored a more cautious approach but were ignored.

At the White House meeting that included Salk and Sabin, however, when Ford asked for dissenting views, the attendees remained silent. Moreover, Mathews and Cooper overhyped the comparisons to the Spanish flu outbreak, to the chagrin of Sencer and others. Even Sabin would later recant his support for the vaccination program in a New York Times op-ed, joining those who favored manufacturing and stockpiling the vaccine until evidence showed swine flu had spread.

Considering the messages Ford received from those whom he relied on and the potential for carnage on the scale of 1918, it’s no surprise the president wanted to take bold action.

But the problems with Ford’s program — and skepticism about it — had been evident almost from the beginning.

Drugmakers had just completed producing large supplies of the seasonal flu vaccine and would need to quickly ramp up production of a new vaccine. Some congressional Democrats, such as Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), viewed the plan dubiously. There was no infrastructure in place to manage a national immunization campaign, and the HEW would have to invent one in just months and coordinate planning with state and local health agencies.

The press also wasn’t convinced. After Ford concluded his March 24 press conference, Mathews, Cooper, Sencer, Salk and Sabin stayed behind to talk with reporters. Just minutes after hearing Ford’s presentation, reporters promptly posed questions that foreshadowed the immunization program’s ultimate failure.

Reporters asked about the capacity of the drug industry to make enough doses of the vaccine. They asked about harmful side effects. They asked about the federal government’s ability to quickly and capably implement Ford’s plan. They asked how much the vaccine would cost patients. And they asked about objections from medical experts to mass vaccinations.

Insurers Throw Up A Roadblock

The first sign of a problem that would ultimately delay the vaccination program for months came on April 8 , when the pharmaceutical company Merck’s liability insurance company, Chubb, told the drugmaker its coverage would end if Merck participated in the vaccination program.

This issue worsened as the insurance industry refused to cover any of the vaccine manufacturers, which in turn told federal authorities they wouldn’t sell them vaccine without protection, even after Ford personally intervened. This delayed the vaccination program for months until Congress acceded to Ford’s demands for a law that would indemnify drugmakers and make the federal government responsible for any legal damages resulting from vaccinations.

In the meantime, the drug companies had begun manufacturing the vaccine. But even here, there was trouble. Parke-Davis (now part of Pfizer) produced 2 million vaccine doses for the wrong type of influenza, setting back production by a month or more. The drug company and the CDC blamed each other.

Those reporters at Ford’s March announcement and their sources outside the White House turned out to be prescient. An immunization program slated to begin in September slipped into October due to myriad problems , and it was over by December amid meager participation and growing evidence of a connection between the vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The public also wasn’t on board. Although a Gallup poll released in August 1976 found that 93% of Americans knew about the swine flu vaccination program, only 53% had planned to get immunized. Scary public service announcements about the swine flu apparently hadn’t worked.

When the ill-fated vaccination program finally started on Oct. 1, it didn’t take long for more problems to come.

Three elderly people in Pittsburgh died on Oct. 11 after receiving the vaccine, leading city and county officials there to suspend all vaccinations for swine flu and seasonal flu. A handful of jurisdictions followed. Although authorities later determined the fatalities weren’t caused by the swine flu vaccine, public trepidation about the immunization program ― and media scrutiny of it ― grew as more than 40 people died after being vaccinated that month.

To quell worries, Ford and his family were inoculated for swine flu on Oct. 14, an event that was televised and photographed. Although Carter didn’t publicly criticize Ford’s immunization efforts, he pointedly declined to be vaccinated.

The immunization program was finally underway. But Carter narrowly defeated Ford on Election Day, leaving swine flu as Ford’s legacy.

Severe Side Effects

The next month, Minnesota health officials began to notice another disturbing trend when they recorded the first known instance of Guillain-Barré in a vaccinated patient. Minnesota had been especially aggressive in carrying out immunizations and had vaccinated nearly two-thirds of adults in the state. The number of known Guillain-Barré cases grew to 54 by Dec. 14, when the CDC published findings from 10 states.

Two days later, Mathews and other federal officials advised Ford to suspend swine flu vaccinations, and the president agreed. In addition, the snafu about vaccine safety also led the Ford administration to halt all flu inoculations, and they didn’t resume until the early days of the Carter administration. The CDC, New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut all reported a decline in other immunizations during the swine flu campaign and attributed that to resources being diverted from efforts to prevent other infectious diseases, like measles.

Ten months, hundreds of millions of dollars and a single death later, the National Influenza Immunization Program was over and could only be viewed as a ” fiasco ,” as New York Times editorial writer Harry Schwartz put it on Dec. 21.

In retrospect, as Richard Krause, a senior National Institutes of Health official under Ford, Carter and Reagan, wrote in 2006: “The Fort Dix outbreak was a false alarm, and the American public and much of the scientific community accused us of overreacting. As someone noted, 1976 was the first time we had been blamed for an epidemic that did not take place.”

The parallels between the present-day coronavirus pandemic and Ford’s misbegotten swine flu campaign are limited. Though it proved unnecessary and even misguided, the Ford administration was trying to prevent a major outbreak before it happened. The coronavirus was already in the United States before the Trump administration took any action to halt its spread, and its management of the pandemic may well be recalled by history even more unfavorably than Ford’s.

In addition, the H1N1 flu ― including the Spanish flu, the swine flu and the flu that hit the U.S. in 2009 ― was well-understood in 1976, unlike the strain of coronavirus now spreading around the globe. Likewise, drug companies had the capability of developing influenza vaccines after decades of preparation for seasonal flu outbreaks.

The most significant connection between the 1976 outbreak-that-wasn’t and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic is arguably politics and public opinion. Ford tried to do too much, and he paid for it. Trump hasn’t tried to do enough, and people are dying.

Johnny Carson, the host of “The Tonight Show” and a major cultural force in late 20th-century American culture, provided perhaps the best epitaph for Ford’s gambit.

Three weeks after the the swine flu vaccination efforts were discontinued and just 13 days before the end of Ford’s presidency, Carson appeared in a sketch as his long-running clairvoyant character, Carnac the Magnificent. As Carnac, Carson would hold up sealed envelopes to his forehead and “guess” the answer to questions written on slips of paper within.

On the night of Jan. 7, 1977, Carson guessed, “the swine flu vaccine.” The question? “Name a cure for which there is no known disease.”


History of Brady

Under the leadership of President Kris Brown, Brady is one of America’s oldest and boldest gun violence prevention groups, and our history of success goes back decades.

In 1974, Dr. Mark Borinsky founded the National Council to Control Handguns after being robbed and nearly murdered at gunpoint. The organization evolved in 1980 when it became Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI). It was just one year later when HCI’s and the country’s future changed forever.

Jim “the Bear” Brady had achieved a lifelong dream when he was named White House Press Secretary under President Ronald Reagan. However, his service was cut short on March 30, 1981, during an assassination attempt against the president. In addition to President Reagan, Jim and two law enforcement officers were shot. Jim suffered a serious head wound that left him partially paralyzed for life. Although Jim never returned to his position after the shooting, he kept the title for the remainder of President Reagan's presidency.

Soon after the shooting, Jim’s wife Sarah Brady, a respected political operative in her own right, began working with HCI. She was elected to the board in 1985, and became the Chair of the organization in 1989. Two years later, she became the Chair of HCI’s sister organization, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence.

At HCI, Sarah and Jim led the fight to pass federal legislation requiring background checks for all gun sales. Sarah and Jim spent years navigating the halls of Congress, meeting with legislators across party lines to generate enough votes to pass the “Brady Bill,” a law they knew would save lives. Brady President Kris Brown was one of the many staffers on Capitol Hill working to pass the original version of the Brady Bill.

The original Brady legislation was introduced in 1988. It took six votes over seven years and three presidencies until Sarah, Jim, and their team were able to declare victory.

On November 30, 1993, after Sarah and Jim’s seven-year battle, President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law. Brady Background Checks would now be required on all handgun purchases from federally licensed firearm dealers. The signing of the Brady Bill was only the beginning. Sarah continued to advocate for common-sense gun laws at the state and federal level throughout the rest of her life.

In 1994, Sarah and Jim received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards. In 1996, she and Jim received the Margaret Chase Smith Award presented by the Secretaries of State.

In 1996, Jim received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton, the highest civilian award in the United States. On February 11, 2000, President Clinton officially named the White House Press Briefing Room “The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room” in Jim’s honor. A plaque honoring Jim for his service as White House Press Secretary now hangs in that room.

In December 2000, the Boards of Trustees for Handgun Control and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence voted to honor Jim and Sarah Brady’s hard work and commitment to gun control by renaming the two organizations the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. That same year, the Brady Campaign and Center joined with the Million Mom March to expand their efforts to communities throughout the country. Jim and Sarah both continued their commitment to preventing gun violence for the remainder of their lives, with Sarah serving as the Chair of both organizations until 2015.

Jim Brady passed away on August 4, 2014 at the age of 73. His death was ruled a homicide, caused by the shooting 33 years earlier. Sarah passed away one year later, on April 3, 2015 at the age of 73.

In 2016, Brady welcomed the leadership of Kris Brown as co-president. One year later Kris made history by becoming the organization's first woman president. At Brady, she has shaped the conversation on gun violence as a public health crisis, launched the organization’s groundbreaking safe storage program End Family Fire, steered Brady's efforts to engage Black and Brown communities most impacted by gun homicide, and oversaw the formation of Team ENOUGH — Brady’s youth-led initiative founded after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, FL.

Today, led by Kris Brown, who saw Jim and Sarah’s bipartisan impact on Capitol Hill firsthand, Brady continues to uphold the Brady’s legacy by uniting people from coast to coast, progressives and conservatives of every race, ethnicity, and identity, to combat the epidemic of gun violence. In Congress, courts, and communities across the country, Brady can be counted on to lead the fight for a safer country for all of us. Brady has always been more than a name, it’s a passion for change.


President Reagan Shot - HISTORY

"He forgot the names of Cabinet officers, trusted aides and visiting dignitaries. In Brazil, he toasted the people of Bolivia." 1

"Apparently, in spite of the rather stark poverty of his family, Reagan's childhood was almost free of illness" 2a.

As a child, Reagan would have to sit in the front row in class to see, which embarassed him. In sports, Reagan sometimes got hit in the head with the ball he could not see. It was only at age 9 or 10 that a visiting nurse made the diagnosis. Reagan later said that when he got glasses, he was surprised to discover that trees had leaves and that butterflies existed -- neither of which he had ever been able to see 3.

Later in life, Reagan wore contact lenses. When delivering a speech he would remove one lens so he could read his notes and leave one lens in so he could see the audience. Thus, for those around Reagan it was common practice to see him re-inserting a contact lens after speaking 3.

Another reference 8 says Dr. T. Burton Smith performed a trans-urethral prostatectomy on Reagan in 1967, presumably because of his history of "well-documented benign prostatic hypertrophy and several episodes of prostatitis." Thus, it is unclear if Reagan had one or two urological operations in the 1960s. (Probably one.)

Quotes from the primary 5 of his six 7 physicians include: (1) He is in excellent health. He just underwent a strenuous campaign and had no problems whatsoever. His resistance to colds was remarkable. (2) He exercises every day with a wheel device and rides horseback at his ranch whenever he can. . It's a single small wheel -- such as you might see on a kid's wagon -- to which two handles are attached. (3) I think he is quite able to handle stress. . He doesn't take vacations very frequently. (4) I know he eats moderately, and we've told him he should avoid excessive amounts of animal fats and carbohydrates. (5) The standard treadmill tests [have shown] no evidence whatsoever of underlying coronary artery disease. We have also found no evidence of any neurological impairments. (6) When I have done different physical examinations on him, . he's totally relaxed and undemanding. He goes through those tests in a place that is especially set up for him and where he could pull rank but he doesn't. . He just accepts the fact that we're doing all these tests. He doesn't ask many questions. (7) [The article also included comments about conditions noted elsewhere on this web page.]

After entering Reagan's body, the bullet ricocheted off his left-sided seventh rib. By now the bullet was deformed into a dime-shaped mass, and when it entered Reagan's left lung, it did considerable damage to the lung tissue. The lung began bleeding, and collapsed. The bullet lodged about one inch from the heart. To see the full chronology of events, click here: MORE

The first-line treatment for a collapsed lung is a chest tube -- a plastic tube that is inserted through the skin, between the ribs, and into the chest cavity where the lungs sit. This is not a difficult procedure, and medical students are often allowed to insert a chest tube (under supervision) after having seen just once how to properly do it. Dr. Zebra was told that a medical student at the George Washington University School of Medicine, doing a rotation in the emergency room, had earlier that day seen a chest tube inserted. Furthermore, the resident supervising the student told him, "OK, you get to put in the chest tube on the next case that comes in." Shortly thereafter, an ashen Reagan walked through the door and collapsed. The resident immediately looked at the student and said: "No!" 11.

It has been noted that Reagan's wound was, at the outset, "much more life-threatening than that of Garfield or McKinley, who would both have almost certainly survived" had modern surgical care been available to them 2e.

Throughout the episode, the President's staff was, in the words of Reagan's physician, Dr. Daniel Ruge, "anxious to portray the president as being well. . But nobody is very well after being shot, and having had an anesthetic, and having lost a lot of blood and having it replaced" 10b. (Reagan lost over half of all the blood in his body 10c.) Ruge felt that Reagan did not recover completely until October, i.e. 6-7 months after the shooting 10b.

Former aide Michael Deaver says Reagan became more stubborn after the shooting. Reagan believed that he was "chosen" for his role by a higher power, and that the shooting was a reminder of this. He therefore decided to more closely follow his own instincts 3.

The answer comes from Gerald Ford's observation that "Ronnie doesn't dye his hair, he's just prematurely orange," referring to the fact that "Orange on a middle-aged man means he's been playing unsupervised among the Clairol" 12.

Although Nancy Reagan apparently preferred to delay surgery until the following week on the advice of her astrologer, Reagan preferred to have the surgery the next day -- to avoid having to repeat the colonic preparation 10e.

The operation lasted 2 hours and 53 minutes. The right-sided portion of Reagan's colon was removed -- about 2 feet of length. Exploration of other abdominal structures found no spread of the cancer. The tumor was ultimately classified as a "Duke's B," meaning it had invaded the muscle of the colon, but was confined to the bowel wall 10f Post-operatively, one of the surgeons remarked about the then-74-year-old President: "This man has the insides of a forty year old" 2g. Reagan left the hospital on July 20 13.

As a result of the surgery, Reagan transferred Presidential power to Vice President Bush for 7 hours and 50 minutes MORE 10g. It is often written that Reagan invoked section 3 of the 25th Amendment to make this transfer, but he did not explicitly invoke the Amendment 10h.

Another basal cell carcinoma was removed from his neck in 1995 4.

"The Cold War began to end when two elderly gentlemen discovered that they shared a common difficulty with their bladders." Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko was at the White House. Reagan was supposed to raise one crucial, secret issue when the two were alone. Security people watched Reagan and Gromyko alone in the Oval Office, nodding in conversation. Afterwards, US State Department people asked the Soviets for their reaction to the secret issue. The Soviets looked blank. What secret issue? "Reagan, 73, had asked Gromyko, 75, only if he would like to use the private Presidential lavatory. Indeed Gromyko would. Very much. He went first. Reagan went second. They washed their hands and, much relieved, the two old fellows strolled in to lunch. Arms control was forgotten, but a certain rapport had been forged among the faucets." 16a

Comment: It is unclear how much brain power is needed to be a successful chief executive. This is certainly true in large corporations, as Dr. Zebra heard many times during his medical training, from professors who had taken care of CEOs who were demented, yet still working.

Thus, Gerald Ford's assessment is relevant: "He was not what I would [call] a technically competent president. You know, his knowledge of the budget, his knowledge of foreign policy -- it was not up to the standards of either Democrat or Republican presidents. But he had a helluva flair. So I praise his assets, but I have reservations about his technical ability" 17a.

Reagan's mother was "senile" for "a few years" before she died of atherosclerotic disease at age 80 7.

By contrast, as President, in his 70s, "He forgot the names of Cabinet officers, trusted aides and visiting dignitaries. In Brazil, he toasted the people of Bolivia" 1. A friend tells Dr. Zebra of a film clip in which Reagan, as President, is asked a question, only to look completely blank until the camera audio picks up his wife Nancy whispering an evasive answer ("We're doing all that we can") into Reagan's ear, which he then speaks.

In 1993 Reagan became increasingly forgetful. Alzheimer disease was diagnosed during his annual visit to the Mayo Clinic in 1994. His condition was announced to the public in a carefully worded letter to the American people on Nov. 5, 1994 1 MORE

According to Gerald Ford, Reagan was stll able to write a letter the week of the public announcement, but by by 1995 he did not recognize people and a 24-hour nurse for him was being sought 17b. Ford also said that he visited Reagan in Century City (Reagan's office) in January 1999, but Reagan did not recognize him at all, despite Ford's best efforts 17c. Comment: The 1995 and 1999 accounts seem to be at odds over the progression of the disease.

There is an interesting photograph of Reagan, taken in 1996, that shows a visible sign of his Alzheimer disease MORE . He is shown standing with a model of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, a ship named in his honor, along with his wife and the CEO of the company building the ship. Reagan's necktie peeks out below the button of his suit coat. Reagan was extremely careful with his appearance all his life -- as an actor and as a President who wore $1000 suits -- so this tiny slip is actually significant, as a sign of inattention caused by his disease. (For a case in which this sign was actually responsible for the diagnosis of Alzheimer disease in a business executive, see 18a.)

Was Reagan symptomatic while in office? There was speculation about his mental function as early as 1987, just after he underwent his third major operation while in office (prostate). In response, Reagan held a press conference on March 19, 1987 in which he performed extremely well in front of a hostile press 15a.

Gerald Ford visited Reagan when the disease was well advanced. "He barely recognized me. . . I tried to bring up things that would refresh his memory, but he was not the Ronald Reagan that I [had known]" 17d.

Comment: Pneumonia is a frequent complication of Alzheimer disease. Reflexes which normally prevent aspiration of mouth contents into the lungs may be lost or severely diminished in Alzheimer disease. The lungs are normally sterile, so this introduction of infectious agents into the lungs can lead to pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia can be difficult to treat.