Channel NewsAsia

Reagan spokesman, US anti-gun activist James Brady dies

Former White House spokesman James Brady, who became a tireless gun control advocate after being severely wounded during a 1981 assassination attempt against his then-boss Ronald Reagan, has died at the age of 73.

WASHINGTON: Former White House spokesman James Brady, who became a tireless gun control advocate after being severely wounded during a 1981 assassination attempt against his then-boss Ronald Reagan, has died at the age of 73.

In a statement to US news media on Monday (August 4) that specified no date or place of death, Brady's family said he passed away "after a series of health issues." "We are enormously proud of Jim's remarkable accomplishments - before he was shot on that fateful day in 1981 while serving at the side of President Ronald Reagan and in the days, months and years that followed," they said.

Brady was among four people shot and wounded - including Reagan - when John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill the newly-inaugurated president on a rainy day outside the Washington Hilton hotel on March 30, 1981. A serious head wound left him with partial paralysis and slurred speech. Unable to return to work, the Illinois native nevertheless retained the title of White House press secretary throughout the Reagan administration.

SOUGHT TOUGHER GUN LAWS

With his wife Sarah, Brady took a front-and-centre role in efforts to enact tougher handgun laws in the United States, notably through an advocacy group that came to be known as the Brady Campaign.

Success came in November 1993 when President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, which required background checks for anyone buying firearms from a licensed retailer in the United States. He remain committed to gun control throughout his life, saying in 2011: "I wouldn't be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation."

"Since 1993, the law that bears Jim's name has kept guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals," said President Barack Obama, whose own push for wider background checks after the Newtown school massacre in December 2012 collapsed on Capitol Hill. "An untold number of people are alive today who otherwise wouldn't be, thanks to Jim," he said in a statement. "Jim was the personification of courage and perseverance," added Reagan's widow Nancy Reagan in a statement.

'NEVER GAVE UP'

"He and Sarah never gave up, and never stopped caring about the causes in which they believed." More than two million attempts by prohibited individuals to buy firearms have been foiled since the "Brady Bill" -- which did not extend to gun sales between individuals -- came into force, said Brady Campaign president Dan Gross.

"Jim never gave up fighting and never lost his trademark wit," said Gross, whose own brother suffered a traumatic brain injury during a shooting at the Empire State Building in New York. "In fact, there are few Americans in history who are as directly responsible for saving as many lives as Jim," he said in a statement.

As a press secretary, Brady - a longtime Republican for whom the White House press briefing room was renamed in 2000 - was known for his feistiness and good humor.

"Jim set the model and standard for the rest of us to follow," said a joint statement from Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest and nine of his predecessors both Democratic and Republican.

'TRUE AFFECTION FOR PRESS'

"He had a true affection and respect for the press, relished a good sparring with the front row, and was an unfailing defender of the president and the value of a free press."

For his attempt to assassinate Reagan, Hinckley - who got his .22 pistol from a pawn shop in Texas, and claimed he was trying to impress actress Jodie Foster - was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Now 59, he resides at a Washington mental hospital, but has court permission to pay regular visits to his mother's home in Virginia.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia