It’s been more than 30 years since the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan when Jim Brady was shot. Since that day, Jim and Sarah Brady, along with the Brady Campaign, have been on a decades-long quest to prevent gun violence. The Bradys tireless efforts culminated in the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993. The Brady law has blocked an estimated 2 million prohibited gun purchases and helped save countless lives. The Brady’s continued leadership has been a driving force on gun violence prevention.
About Sarah Brady
Sarah Brady was born on February 6, 1942, the older of two children of school teachers L. Stanley Kemp and Frances Kemp. Her family relocated to Alexandria, Virginia when her father took a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
After graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1964, Sarah followed in her parents’ footsteps, becoming a school teacher. She taught in Virginia public school classrooms for four years before moving on to a decade-long career in Republican politics. She served as an assistant to the Campaign Director at the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1968 to 1970. Sarah then joined the staff of U.S. Representative Mike McKevitt (R-CO) as an administrative aide.
Sarah went on to hold the same position in the office of U.S. Representative Joseph J. Maraziti (R-NJ) from 1972-1974. During the next four years, Sarah served as Director of Administration and Coordinator of Field Services for the Republican National Committee.
It was during her time as a Republican political aide when Sarah met Jim Brady. They were married in 1973. Five years later, Sarah and Jim welcomed a son, James Scott Brady, Jr. in 1978.
Ronald Reagan’s victory in the 1980 presidential election brought many changes to Sarah’s life. Jim, who worked on Reagan’s campaign, was named Press Secretary in the new administration.
Less than three months after President Reagan delivered his inaugural address, Sarah’s life changed forever. On March 30, 1981, Jim was shot during the assassination attempt on President Reagan. He suffered a serious head wound that left him partially paralyzed for life. Sarah and Jim’s lives would never be the same.
Sarah soon began working with Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI). She was elected to the board in 1985. Sarah became the Chair of the organization in 1989. Two years later, she became the Chair of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, HCI's sister organization.
At HCI, Sarah and Jim led the fight to pass federal legislation to require a background check prior to the purchase of any handgun. Sarah and Jim spent years navigating the halls of Congress, meeting with legislators across party lines to generate enough votes to pass the “Brady Bill,” because they knew this new law could save lives.
The original Brady legislation was introduced in 1988. It took six votes over seven years – three presidencies, in fact - until Sarah and her team was able to declare victory.
On November 30, 1993, after Sarah and Jim’s seven-year battle, President Bill Clinton signed the “Brady Bill,” into law. Brady background checks would now be required on all handgun purchases at federal licensed firearm dealers. The signing of the Brady Bill was only the beginning. Sarah continued to advocate for commonsense gun laws at the state and federal level throughout the rest of her life.
In 1994, Sarah and Jim received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards. In 1996, she and Jim received the Margaret Chase Smith Award presented by the Secretaries of State.
In December 2000, the Boards of Trustees for HCI voted to honor Jim and Sarah Brady’s hard work and commitment to gun violence prevention by renaming the two organizations the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Sarah continued to serve as Chair of both organizations until 2015.
Sarah passed away on April 3, 2015. She was 73.
In Her Own Words
"Most people think I got seriously involved in the gun violence issue when Jim was shot. But it was actually another incident that started my active participation with gun violence prevention efforts.
It was back in the summer of 1985. Our family was visiting Jim's hometown, Centralia, Illinois. At that time, our son Scott was just six years old. We had some friends who owned a construction company and they had a lovely home at the edge of town that had a swimming pool.
One day, our friend and an employee stopped by in a company pickup truck and asked if Scott and I would like to go out to the house for a swim. We thought that was a great idea. Scott got in first, and I climbed in behind him. He picked up off the seat what looked like a toy gun, and started waving it around, and I thought this was a perfect chance to talk to him about safety. So I took the little gun from him, intending to say he must never point even a toy gun at anyone.
As soon as I got it into my hand, I realized it was no toy. It was a fully-loaded Saturday-night special, very much like the one that had shot Jim. I cannot even begin to describe the rage that went through me. To think that my precious little boy had come so close to tragedy. My friend hopped in the truck and then the employee got in. I gave my friend the gun and asked her to put it away immediately. They both knew I was upset.
The rest of that day I could think of nothing else. I was disappointed and shocked. My father had been an FBI agent, and I'd grown up with a gun in my home. But this didn't make sense -- someone allowing a gun to lie around.
From that day on, I decided that much more needed to be done to help keep children safe from guns. And since that time, I have fought against the gun lobby and anyone else who wants guns "anywhere, at any time for any one."
She and Jim were the 1991 recipients of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations' "Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award". In 1992, along with her husband, Jim, Sarah received the "C. Everett Koop Health Advocate Award" from the American Hospital Association's American Society for Health Care Marketing & Public Relations. In 1993, she received the "Communicator of the Year" Award from the League of Women Voters of the United States. Sarah received "America's Finest" Award presented from the New England Institute of Technology. In 1994, she received the Lenore and George W. Romney Citizen Volunteer Award with her husband, Jim.
In 1996, Sarah and Jim received the Margaret Chase Smith Award presented by the Secretaries of State. In 1997, the Violence Prevention Coalition honored Sarah with the Angel of Peace Award and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine presented her with the 1997 Spirit of Achievement Award. Also in 1997, Sarah, along with poet Rita Dove, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Washington Post Chair Katharine Graham, was named one of Sara Lee's Frontrunners by the Sara Lee Foundation.
About Jim Brady
Jim “The Bear” Brady was born in Centralia, Illinois on August 29, 1940. Jim graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in political science in 1962. That summer, he was an Honor Intern at the U.S. Department of Justice Anti-Trust Division. Jim began his career in public service as a staff member in the office of Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen. During the summer of 1962, Jim also held numerous positions in the private sector in Illinois, including Executive and Vice President of James and Thomas Advertising and Public Relations.
In 1973, Jim moved to Washington, D.C. and served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget; Assistant to the Secretary of Defense; and member of the staff of Senator William Roth. He also served as Press Secretary to then presidential candidate John Connally. Jim was Spokesperson for the Office of the President-Elect and Director of Public Affairs and Research for the Reagan-Bush Committee.
Jim married Sarah Jane Kemp in 1973. Their son, James Scott Brady, Jr., was born in 1978. Jim also had a daughter, Melissa, from a previous marriage.
In January 1981, Jim achieved a lifelong career goal when President Ronald Reagan appointed him Assistant to the President and White House Press Secretary. However, his service, was cut short on March 30, 1981, when a mentally unstable young man, John Hinckley, attempted to assassinate the President. Hinckley shot President Reagan, Jim, and two law enforcement officers. Jim suffered a serious head wound that left him partially paralyzed for life. Although Jim never worked as press secretary after the shooting, he kept the title for the remainder of President Reagan's presidency.
After leaving the White House, Jim spent countless hours lobbying with his wife Sarah, Chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (formerly Handgun Control Inc.), in support of commonsense gun laws.
On November 30, 1993, after a six-year battle, President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act into law. The Brady law changed the existing “lie-and-buy” system to a “background check-then-buy” system by requiring that every sale of a gun by a licensed dealer be referred to law enforcement for a background check.
The law has been an unqualified success. Since 1994, more than 2 million attempts-to-purchase at gun stores by prohibited purchasers have been stopped from buying guns. This simple step protects everyone—gun owners and non-gun owners alike—from the danger of guns falling into the hands of criminals and other prohibited purchasers.
In 1996, Jim received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton, the highest civilian award in the United States. On February 11, 2000, President Clinton officially named the White House Press Briefing Room, “The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room,” in Jim’s honor. A plaque honoring Jim for his service as White House Press Secretary now hangs in the room.
In December 2000, the Boards of Trustees for Handgun Control and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence voted to honor Jim and Sarah Brady’s hard work and commitment to gun control by renaming the two organizations The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Jim served as an Honorary Member of the Board of Trustees of both the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Jim was the recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America and a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.
Jim passed away on August 4, 2014, following a series of health complications. He was 73.
Please join us in remembering Jim and the incredible life he lived. Share your comments on this page.
Brady and Goliath: Gunfight on Capitol Hill chronicles the story of a small group of activists, led by Jim and Sarah Brady, who overcame the National Rifle Association's grip on Congress to help pass The Brady Bill.