I knew Jim Brady before he was famous. Just forty years ago, we were both working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (where I had sought refuge after concluding that I was no longer comfortable serving in the White House Counsel’s office). Jim held the number two position in Public Affairs and was located across the hall from my office as Deputy General Counsel.
Jim and I did not have much occasion to interact in our work, but we became acquainted on a social basis. I remember, in particular, lunches at Danker’s, a nearby restaurant and saloon where Jim introduced me, at some modest cost, to Liars’ Poker. Brady had a wry, sometimes acerbic, sometimes ribald, wit, but he had another side as well. I recall being surprised one day to hear that he had required his entire staff to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. That book, as older readers of RINOcracy.com will recall, was a popular book of the seventies, a fantasy about a seagull that carried powerful messages of personal development and spiritual inspiration. Whether, and if so how, the book made the public affairs office at HUD more effective, I never knew. But it was perhaps a glimpse of the qualities that would sustain Jim Brady in the years following his devastating personal tragedy.
In 1974, I had no clue that Brady would, only a few years later, rise to the eminent position of Presidential Press Secretary for Ronald Reagan, but when the appointment was announced, I was delighted for my former colleague. Jim thrived in the position, but his enjoyment of it did not last long, Less than three months later, the attempt to assassinate President Reagan left Jim grievously wounded: he nearly died and would remain severely disabled by his wounds for the rest of his life. The entire nation was stunned by the event, but for me the personal connection made it just that bit more horrific and hard to take in.
As we all now realize, the story of Jim Brady did not end with his terrible shooting, but in a sense began with it. Despite his daunting disabilities, Jim and his tireless wife Sarah would lead the fight for gun control for decades. Their most notable success was passage, after a six-year struggle, of the Brady Act, requiring background checks and a waiting period for gun sales by licensed dealers. Jim’s wit, as well as his indomitable nature, was captured in a quote that appears in the stories of his death in both The New York Times and The Washington Post. The gun lobby had opposed the Brady bill on several grounds, among them that any waiting period would inconvenience legitimate gun buyers. In testimony before the Senate, Brady noted: “I need help getting out of bed, help taking a shower, and help getting dressed, and — damn it — I need help going to the bathroom…. I guess I’m paying for their convenience.”
Over the years, Jim and Sarah Brady sponsored or supported a variety of other gun control measures. I did not need the spur of an old friendship to support the measures—they were all sensible. Nevertheless, pitted against the power of the NRA and its enablers, the Bradys saw more defeats than victories. But they never gave up, and that is the final point. Vitally important as gun control was and remains, Jim’s life transcends even that. It is compelling testimony to the resilience of the human spirit, and it should be an enduring source of inspiration for all who are seriously afflicted.