On August the 4th, former Reagan assistant and Press Secretary James Brady passed away — though according to his autopsy report, he was murdered on March 30th, 1981.
James Brady was shot in the head by one John Hinckley Jr., during his failed attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, as a means to woo actress Jodie Foster. After hours of surgery, Brady’s life was saved, though he left the ordeal with brain injury, short-term memory loss, slurred speech, emotional disability and partial paralysis that left him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his days.
After the shooting, Brady became one of America’s leading voices for gun control; in 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandated NICS background checks on any firearms purchase from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer. Originally, the bill mandated a five-day waiting period for handgun sales, though the NRA bought — err, “lobbied” — that down to a zero-day wait. The NRA has been fighting it tooth and nail ever since; 69 percent of Brady Bill denials are felons or fugitives.
Upon his death on August 4th, ABC News reports a medical examiner ruled that Brady’s passing had been the result of long-time illnesses and health issues related to the 1981 shooting and subsequent brain damage. The medical examiner therefore listed Brady’s death as a homicide, 33 years after the shooting.
This much isn’t entirely unprecedented, though it usually only happens when victims have been in a coma on life support following acts of violence. But the case is unprecedented in other ways, not least of which because Brady’s killer has already been found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Since the shooting, John Hinckley Jr. has been kept at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, though in recent years he’s been permitted unsupervised visits to his parents. As of 2011, administrators concluded that he “no longer poses an imminent risk of danger to himself or others.” Even so, he, at the very least was legally insane at the time of the shooting.
Federal prosecutors are now examining the ruling, trying to decide how to proceed. Technically, Hinckley could be charged with homicide, as have others whose assault victims later died. But, while that could (and some say should) happen, there’s likely no point.
Most believe the verdict would end up exactly the same as it was 33 years ago, on his previous 13 counts: not guilty by reason of insanity. Hinckley’s long-time lawyer Barry Levine told the Associated Press:
“I think the (medical examiner’s ruling) will mean nothing. No prosecutors will bring such a case. The notion that it could be a successful prosecution is far-fetched. There is no legal basis to pursue this.”
Tung Yin, professor of law at Lewis & Clark School in Portland, Oregon, largely concurs.
“It seems a bit unprecedented,” he said in reference to the ME’s ruling. On a possible court case and new charges: “A jury has already concluded on the same indecent that he was not guilty. Nothing today changes that.” But what of the fact that he’s reportedly sane now? “That doesn’t change what he was 33 years ago.“
Levine also went on to state that even if prosecutors were to take Hinckley back to trial, they’d then have a whole new set of challenges in proving that the 73-year-old Brady died directly as a result of the shooting, and not as a result of being 73 years old. In the end, this case is likely to go nowhere.
But, let’s all take a moment to appreciate James Brady, and his tireless crusade for gun control. Thanks in large part to him, at least 100 million background checks have been processed through NICS, and at least 2 million guns have been kept out of the hands of felons, fugitives, lunatics, the mentally handicapped, illegal aliens and wife beaters.
We’re sure the NRA is pleased.