On March 30, 1981, my friend Tamara and I were selling ice cream to neighborhood kids from a table that we set up in my front yard. Business was good, and we were turning a profit within the first hour.
When I went inside to get more chipwiches from the freezer, excited to relay the news of our sales to my mom, she quickly shush’d me. Taken aback, I just stood there wondering what the problem was.
She said, “The President was shot.”
“He was shot at?” I asked.
“No, he was shot,” she corrected.
Arguing semantics with a 4th grader is probably frustrating, but I had no idea what the difference between “shot” and “shot at” was. Then I saw the footage being replayed on the TV. Ohhh, the bullet actually hit him, I realized.
Past that moment, I don’t remember much. I’m not sure if or how the issue was addressed at school the following school day. I’d bet we talked about it, but I can’t recall any specific conversation.
At just nine years old my interest in politics and world events had a short attention span. I remember the Iran hostage crisis and how most of the hostages were released as Reagan delivered his inaugural address. I remember debating in class whether or not Reagan would lead us into a nuclear war. Gen X hadn’t known Ronald Reagan the actor, we only knew him as the politician. His election was BIG even to elementary school students, and the attempt on his life forced us to realize that people in power are vulnerable, and that bad people with twisted minds would do crazy things. This event most certainly shaped Gen X’s political awareness.
Less than two months later Pope John Paul II was also shot, so we were thrown into a world of questions about why such things kept happening. While I was too young to remember it, I knew that an attempt had previously been made on President Ford’s life, and of course I’d heard of President Kennedy’s assassination. So I came to see the Presidency as a very dangerous position. I almost assumed that being President guaranteed you’d be shot.
Throughout the last 30 years we’ve periodically seen updates on TV of the status of Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, who was also critically wounded that day.
Gun control as Gen X knows it originated with this man, as the “Brady Bill” became law in 1994. Images of him always brought me back to that day in my front yard at nine years old, and I’d think about all I’d done and everywhere I’d been since that day; I wonder if my old friend Tamara connects that day’s two events.
This AP photo by Ron Edmonds fascinates me. Taken milliseconds after the bullet struck President Reagan in mid-wave, a secret service agent has already begun to push him toward the open door of the limousine. The look of realization of what is happening just begins to show on the President’s face.