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James Brady survived a grave wound to help make America a little safer

James S. Brady, who died on Monday in Alexandria, Va., at age 73, left a legacy of working to protect Americans from the type of gun violence he suffered.

Brady, working from his wheelchair, became a true champion on gun control issues. There are waiting periods and other safeguards because of the efforts of Brady and his wife, Sarah.

No such regulations were in place on March 30, 1981, when Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was struck in a spray of bullets fired by John W. Hinckley Jr., a mentally troubled college dropout who believed that shooting the president would impress actress Jodie Foster.

Reagan was a couple of paces from his limousine when he was hit. Also wounded were a Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia police officer. But the image of Brady splayed on the sidewalk with the most serious injuries was unforgettable. The bullet damaged the right section of his brain, paralyzing his left arm, weakening his left leg, damaging his short-term memory and impairing his speech.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed 12 years after the shooting and began a new era of background checks and waiting periods for many gun buyers. The Bradys never stopped their fight for gun control, advocating for the restoration of a federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004.

He stood up for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year when the governor pushed his gun control bill through the State Legislature. The Bradys also called for universal background checks and supported a bill that closed a loophole that had allowed the gunman in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting to buy weapons even though he had earlier been committed to a mental hospital. President George W. Bush signed that measure into law in January 2008.

Because of Brady’s unflagging efforts, when it comes to gun safety, times have changed for the better.