The fact that the recent death of James Brady, the White House spokesman who was permanently put in a wheel chair by John Hinckley on March 30, 1981, was ruled a homicide seemed to be bizarre to say the least. But it does seem that the injuries he received that day Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan did contribute to his death over 33 years later. But as Hot Air suggested on Saturday, it does not have practical consequence for Hinckley, currently under institutional psychiatric care.
The reason, besides the practical problems of trying a decades old case, is rather obvious. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for attempted murder, due to the fact that he opened fire on the president and his entourage out of a misplace crush on actress Jodi Foster. Irony of ironies, Foster some time later came out as gay. One wonders how history would have turned had that fact been known in 1981.
Hinckley is likely to live out the rest of his life under some kind of institutional supervision, a life sentence of a sort. Putting him in jail at this point in his life, despite the heinousness of his crime, would likely be a pointless exercise. He ought to have gone to jail for the attempted murder and, indeed, his acquittal led to the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 that made it more difficult to get off for being crazy.
Presidential assassins have changed history by the simple act of picking up a fire arm and shooting the leader of the United States. Historians who engage in counterfactuals argue endlessly about how things might have been different had Lincoln or Kennedy lived, though less so when it concerns McKinley or Garfield. But Hinkley may have changed history even though, thankfully, he killed no one.
Reagan, the consummate performer that he was, made a legend for himself when he walked unaided into the hospital, albeit collapsing in the lobby, and wise cracking with both his wife and his surgeons. He also almost died, something not widely reported at the time. The attempt on his life made it easier to pass his economic program, which included tax cuts, which later would break the back of stagflation that had afflicted the United States since the early 1970s.
Bradly, by being a gunshot victim, would become a life-long crusader for gun control, causing the passage of the Brady Law that called for a five day waiting period for the purchase of a hand gun and, later, a background check. It also sparked a long, acrimonious debate about gun rights that has galvanized conservatives. The argument about guns has become as much a center of American politics as the one about abortion.
In both cases, history did get changed through the barrel of a gun.