When Reagan Was Shot

by Brian Bolduc

When the obviously disturbed John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan in 1981, pundits blamed guns for the tragedy; they didn’t blame an ideology, left or right.

In the New York Times, David Rosenbaum quickly dispatched with the theory that Hinckley harbored political motivations. Citing Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan B. Sirhan, Rosenbaum identified a line of assassins who “were deranged loners, social misfits apparently acting alone.” Hinckley, Rosenbaum added, “fits that mold.”

Later, Rosenbaum enumerated three elements that “authorities agree contribute to assassinations”: lax security, a glorified presidency, and “availability of hand guns.” “Few doubt that it would be a deterrent to assassinations if handguns could be eliminated,” Rosenbaum argued.

In the Washington Post, Bill Prochnau and Art Harris picked up on a similar theme: a culture of violence in America. “The acts of violence were becoming so regular, so ingrained, so much a part of American life that the latest shootings — even with a president involved — left many Americans almost immobilized during the long day of televised irrationality when Reagan was shot,” they wrote. Further in the piece, they quoted former president Gerald Ford who lamented it was “impossible to protect presidents against attacks by ‘loners, kooks, screwballs, whatever you want to call them.’”

Years later, Sarah Brady, wife of press secretary Jim Brady, who was wounded in the assassination attempt, would take up the cause of gun control. But in the immediate aftermath, she conspicuously declined to ascribe ideological motives to her husband’s attacker. “I don’t know much about him, I haven’t read much about him, and I just don’t even want to think about him,” she told the Washington Post.

Indeed, gun control was the only blatantly political battle that flared then. As Steve Hayward notes in The Age of Reagan: “Senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) took to the Senate floor to proclaim that America was a ‘sick society,’ and Ted Kennedy called for more gun control; Pat Moynihan noted the irony that Reagan would instantly veto any new gun control law that Congress might pass.”

But Hinckley was never used as a tool against an ideology. In fact, he was often described as a loner, and it was left at that.

When it comes to Jared Loughner, some on today’s Left don’t have the decency to do the same.

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