Jack Ohman

August 16, 2014

Editorial Notebook/Jack Ohman: Our skin is thick but our bones still chill

James Brady’s death stirred powerful memories and a bone-chilling reaction.

Jack Ohman

Editorial cartoonist, writer and Joe King’s alter ego

I had returned from lunch with colleagues in New York on March 30, 1981, when I heard that President Ronald Reagan had been shot, along with a Secret Service agent, a police officer and presidential press secretary James Brady.

One of the most vivid images I recall was that of James Brady, lying facedown on a grate. The video was blurry, and showed police and Secret Service agents, guns drawn, looking helplessly as the presidential limousine sped to George Washington University Hospital. Reagan nearly died.

The next day, I was in D.C. and went to the assassination scene. It was late at night. There was no crime scene tape or flowers, just a hotel door in the twilight.

And the grate where Brady had fallen. There was no blood. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

That night, and for months after, James Brady lay in the hospital. A bullet traversed his forehead. His survival was very much in doubt. Reagan was in serious condition, too.

Thirty-three years later, James Brady died. A coroner determined that his death on Aug. 4 was a direct result of his injuries and ruled it a homicide. This shooting by a lunatic with a pawnshop pistol left Brady in a wheelchair. He spoke haltingly. The center of emotions in his brain was damaged. He had memory issues, and often could not recognize faces. He eventually learned to walk a bit on a cane.

Most importantly, Brady led the effort to create background checks for people purchasing handguns. It took six years, but the bill was finally passed and signed, 12 years after the shooting.

I drew a cartoon memorializing James Brady the day he died.

I get a lot of mail in this job. Some of it is positive, some of it is negative, some of it is irrational, some of it is frightening. I got an email this week that was bone-chilling, the most disturbing email or letter I’ve ever received, and that’s saying a lot.

The header in the email read, “Bye bye Brady.”

“I’m happy that the walrus is dead. Brady should have died a long time ago. But he persisted like a welfare case. I’ll dance on that traitor’s grave for violating my 2nd Amendment rights!”

Unsigned, naturally.

Of course, Brady persisted because he was a fighter, not a welfare case. As the writer dances on James Brady’s grave, let’s recall the words of his boss, Reagan:

“This nightmare might never had happened if legislation that is before the Congress now – the Brady bill – had been law in 1981.”

James Brady would have been able to recognize the writer’s face for what it is, even if he had been shot in the head. Brady’s nightmare is over. Ours is still happening.

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