Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Assassination Attempt

So who survived an assassintation attempt on this day? Hopefully, you all knew the answer was Ronald Reagan in 1981! You can check out oral histories on that day at the Miller Center. Prologue's blog also as a piece today on the "zero year curse."

You can also check out this piece from a reporter, remembering covering the event:
Seconds after he walked out the private VIP door, there was a "pop, pop, pop" sound echoing everywhere. In an instant, people were yelling, "get down!" and I could see the president being shoved into his car. I made a split-second decision not to go with the motorcade, because I saw several people were on the ground, and knew I needed to get to a phone.

One of those down, lying in a pool of blood around his head, was a large man who appeared to be press secretary Jim Brady, someone I knew well. I felt sick to my stomach as I asked anyone I could grab if they thought President Reagan had been hit. A White House staffer said he didn't think so, but couldn't be sure. This was long before the cell phone era, and I went running in search of a land line.

The phone in the hotel lobby was tied up, so I ran across the street to an office building, asking frantically to borrow a phone. It seemed like an hour -- but it was only a minute or two -- before I reached the NBC news desk, and they had heard the news. I reported what I knew, then raced with my camera crew to find a taxi to take us the short distance back to the White House.

The rest of the day was a blur - I spent much of it standing on a chair in the White House press briefing room, doing a stream of live TV reports, now common, but then unusual - and trying to sort out fact from fiction about the president's condition. There were several mistakes made that day -- among them, reports that the president was undergoing heart surgery. A bullet had punctured his lung, however, and he came much closer to death than anyone outside the hospital realized at the time. And another report that Jim Brady had died -- he hadn't, but he was gravely wounded by the devastating bullet that pierced his brain.

What happened to John Hinckley, Jr.?

Hinckley's trial in 1982 ended in a not-guilty verdict, by reason of insanity. The assassination attempt won him notoriety and media attention, and also led to legislation limiting the use of the insanity plea in several states. Twelve years and two administrations later, President Clinton signed the Brady Bill, which requires a waiting period and background check on all handguns purchased through licensed dealers. The bill has come under fire both from supporters, who believe its requirements are too lenient, and opponents, who say it infringes on the constitutional right to bear arms.

Confined to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC, since his trial, Hinckley's obsession with Foster continued. In 1999, however, after significant process in his psychiatric treatment, Hinckley was allowed to leave the grounds for supervised visits.

In April 2000 he won the right to unsupervised furloughs. The following month these rights were revoked when guards found in his room a smuggled book about Jodie Foster. (He is banned from having any material about the star.) He has always seemed aware of his motivations, even immediately after the shooting. In 1981 he told Newsweek: "The line dividing life and art can be invisible. After seeing enough hypnotizing movies and reading enough magical books, a fantasy life develops which can either be harmless or quite dangerous."

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