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« 1981 »

During his second month in office, President Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded as he left the Washington Hilton Hotel after a speaking engagement.

On March 30, 1981, John Warnock Hinckley Jr. fired six times from a group of bystanders, also wounding press secretary James Brady, police officer Thomas K. Delahunty and Secret Service agent Timothy J. McCarthy.

Page 1 of this March 31 edition of the Arkansas Gazette reported that the 70-year-old president had walked into the hospital without assistance. Gazette wire reports assured readers that the president, though his injury was serious, still had his faculties, including his humor. He was quoted as saying to his wife Nancy, as she joined him at the hospital, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

The next day, the Gazette reported that Reagan felt well enough to sign legislation from his hospital bed.

The March 31 Gazette also reported that Hinckley, who was “sedated and confined in a Marine brig … pending a psychiatric exam,” had a history of run-ins with the law. He had been arrested Oct. 9, 1980, at an airport in Nashville, Tenn., “for trying to board an airline with three handguns and 50 rounds of ammunition in a suitcase.”

On April 1 the Gazette reported that Hinckley, a “reclusive drifter,” had previously undergone psychiatric evaluation, although the severity of his condition hadn’t been apparent at the time. It was reported that Hinckley was obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver and one of its stars, Jodie Foster: “Sources said Hinckley wrote Miss Foster several times in recent months, threatening to kill Mr. Reagan for what he believed was a snub of the actress.”

According to CNN, Hinckley stalked Foster and “said he was trying to impress her with the Reagan assassination attempt.”

A search of the hotel room Hinckley had stayed in the night before the attempted assassination found photos of Foster and of a gun-toting Lee Harvey Oswald — the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.

In June 1982, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

In the University of Virginia Miller Center’s Ronald Reagan Oral History Project, senior officials from the administration shared their memories of the shooting. Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense, said Reagan’s recovery was “amazingly quick”: “I thought it would be months or years before he would ever be able to regain his capabilities. It was a matter of weeks.”

Max Friedersdorf, assistant to the president for legislative affairs, said, “Bless his heart, he’d be riding an exercise machine trying to get his strength back. … He had a physique like a 30-year-old muscle builder. … I think his physical condition saved his life. … Incredible constitution. It wasn’t too long before he was back in the office, going about his business. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”

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