President Reagan had been in office only two months when he exited the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981, after delivering a speech. Six shots rang out, fired from a .22-caliber revolver loaded with explosive “Devastator” bullets. Secret Service agent Timothy J. McCarthy and Washington police officer James Delahanty were hit, as was White House press secretary James S. Brady, who suffered a severe head wound.
The president was bundled into his limousine, where it was discovered that he, too, had been wounded in the chest. Fortunately, the bullet, lodged in his lung, had failed to explode and was removed in an emergency surgical operation. “I hope you’re all Republicans,” the president quipped to his surgeons.
The shooter, 25-year-old John Warnock Hinckley, Jr., was the drifter son of a wealthy Denver oil engineer. Hinckley was obsessed with screen actress Jodie Foster, who had made a sensation as a teenage prostitute in “Taxi Driver,” a 1976 film dealing in part with political assassination. Hinckley apparently decided to kill the president to impress Foster.
A jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity, and fie was confined to a psychiatric hospital. All of his victims recovered, except for Brady, who was left partially paralyzed. Brady became a passionate advocate of federal regulation of handguns—a policy President Reagan had himself opposed.