Back in time – 1981: Ronald Reagan does not dodge a bullet

Peyton Powell
Staff Writer

On this day 36 years ago, the figure head and most secured man of the United States was shot in attempt to end his life. This man was the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Ronald Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in Illinois to parents Nelle Clyde (Née Wilson) and John Edward Reagan. He attended Dixon High School and later Eureka College. After college, Reagan would go on to become an actor, military service member, and governor of California in 1967 until he decided to run for president.

Ronald Reagan ran for President of the United States in 1980 against the incumbent Democrat president Jimmy Carter. Reagan won the election against Carter with 44 states and 489 electoral college votes. His success was stemmed from Jimmy Carter’s many domestic concerns and the problem of the Iran hostage crisis. His inauguration took place on January 20th, 1981, and only a few months later the president would be facing a life-threatening situation that could have ended very badly.

On March 30, 1981, 69 days after being inaugurated as the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan was shot outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. This hotel was deemed the safest in Washington to deliver a luncheon to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

At 2:27pm when the president was walking through the “President’s Walk” to his awaiting limousine, the shooter open fired while waiting inside a crowd of onlookers.

The shooter fired 6 shots in total, 4 of which hit the President, White House Press Secretary James Brady, Police Officer Thomas Delahanty, and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy. The other two bullets hit the side of a nearby building, and the bullet resistance glass of President Reagan’s limousine. Out of the four people shot, there were no immediate fatalities resulting from the shooting. The president, along with the others who were shoot, were rushed to George Washington University Hospital.

President Reagan didn’t believe that he was shot, and that the pain he was feeling was due to Special Agent Jerry Parr pushing him into the limousine. Reagan refused to go to the hospital, instead wanting to be treated by the White House physicians, but was instead taken to the hospital after he started coughing up blood.

Ronald Reagon
Ronald Reagan beat out incumbent president Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election race. However, he faced mortal danger soon after he was inaugurated (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons).

It was later found out that he was shot in his left underarm, grazing a rib, and then lodging into his lung. The President kept losing blood so the hospital staff had to perform a thoracotomy, which lasted 105 minutes. Reagan’s surgery was a success, and his recovery lasted only two weeks before he could resume his duties as President of the United States.

The shooter was John Hinckley Jr., a 26-year-old who had a massive obsession with actress Jodie Foster after seeing her in the movie “Taxi Driver.” This obsession lead him to believe that if he tried to assassinate the president, she would recognize him for him having a place in history, and they would be equals.

Hinckley’s time finally came on March 30th, when he slipped into a crowd of admirers right where President Reagan would walk past. The president then walked right in front of Hinckley, and he thought there would not be a better chance to do this, so he just shot. He shot 6 times in 1.7 seconds with a Rohm RG-14 .22 caliber revolver, hitting four men, one including the president. Hinckley was then immediately detained and protected to make sure that the same thing that happened to Lee Harvey Oswald wouldn’t happen to him.

John Hinckley Jr. was charged with 13 offenses, and during his trial in 1982, he was found not guilty on reason of insanity. His attorneys painted the picture that he was clinically insane, and the prosecution characterized him as sane. After the trial, Hinckley wrote about the shootings saying that it was, “the greatest love offering in the history of the world.”

On September 10th, 2016, he was released from his institutional psychiatric care, and would be living full-time with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Ronald Reagan died in the year 2004, from pneumonia resulting from complications of his Alzheimer’s. Reagan would forever go down in history as President of the United States and the man who reshaped the Republican Party, with some of his policies and beliefs being used by recent presidential candidates.

Some think of Reagan as the greatest president even with the assassination attempt, but per Reagan himself, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”