Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Handgun History: When Bystanders Are Assailants

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Handgun History: When Bystanders Are Assailants

Article excerpt

ON the bulletin board in my Washington office, from time to time I would post front-page photos in which I happened to appear, clipped from newspapers around the country. Reporters on the political trail often find themselves in the crowds drawn to celebrities - though they are detached onlookers, much as Rembrandt often painted himself into the background of his works.

In a front-page photo in the New York Times, Jan. 7, 1981, and a similar photo in that day's Washington Post, Ronald Reagan is pictured outside Blair House, the president-elect's quarters until inauguration day, when his residence across Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House, would be vacated by Jimmy Carter. To Reagan's right is a beaming James A. Brady, just introduced as presidential press secretary. Karna Small, blond with a model's smile, in a fur coat, not a trench coat, is at Reagan's left. In the background, collar up, likely unrecognized by anyone but himself, is yours truly.

Brady, a bear of a man, had a great sense of humor. A former Treasury spokesman, he called the prediction that Reagan's budget would balance in five years, the "mirage effect." Soon after a few stand-in briefings for Brady, Ms. Small would lose her job. And shortly Brady would almost lose his life.

Soon after, during the March 30 noon hour, I was walking across Lafayette Park, returning from the White House, a stone's throw or two from Blair House. There was a light, misty rain, the kind of weather that signals the transition point from winter to spring. In a pagan society, I remember thinking, this would be the moment of transition for leaders: " 201 long live the king!"

When I reached the office at 16th Street and K, the calls were already coming in. Reagan, Brady, a Secret Service officer, and a Washington police officer had been shot. At the Washington Hilton up on Connecticut Avenue. Al Haig soon was to tell an anxious staff and nation not to worry, he was in charge. Reagan was to endear himself to a nation by saying he hoped the surgeons about to remove a bullet from his lung were Republicans. And Jim Brady, shot through the brain, would begin a long, courageous recovery. …

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