Reagan Assassination Attempt

John Hinckley Jr.'s Attempt to Assassinate the President of the United States

The Assassination Attempt of President Reagan at the Reagan Library
Kayte Deioma

On March 30, 1981, 25-year-old John Hinckley Jr. opened fire on U.S. President Ronald Reagan just outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. President Reagan was hit by one bullet, which punctured his lung. Three others were also injured in the shooting.

The Shooting

Around 2:25 p.m. on March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan emerged via a side door from the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. He had just finished giving a speech to a group of trade unionists at the National Conference of Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

Reagan only had to walk about 30 feet from the hotel door to his awaiting car, so the Secret Service had not thought a bullet-proof vest to be necessary. Outside, waiting for Reagan, were a number of newspapermen, members of the public, and John Hinckley Jr.

When Reagan got close to his car, Hinckley pulled out his .22-caliber revolver and fired six shots in quick succession. The entire shooting took only two to three seconds.

In that time, one bullet hit Press Secretary James Brady in the head and another bullet hit police officer Tom Delahanty in the neck.

With lightening quick reflexes, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy spread out his body as wide as possible to become a human shield, hoping to protect the President. McCarthy was hit in the abdomen.

In the mere seconds that all this was taking place, another Secret Service agent, Jerry Parr, pushed Reagan into the backseat of the awaiting presidential car. Parr then jumped on top of Reagan in an effort to protect him from further gunfire. The presidential car then quickly drove off.

The Hospital

At first, Reagan didn't realize that he had been shot. He thought he had maybe broken a rib when he had been thrown into the car. It wasn't until Reagan began coughing up blood that Parr realized Reagan might be seriously hurt.

Parr then redirected the presidential car, which had been heading to the White House, to George Washington Hospital instead.

Upon arrival at the hospital, Reagan was able to walk inside on his own, but he soon passed out from loss of blood.

Reagan had not broken a rib from being thrown into the car; he had been shot. One of Hinckley's bullets had ricocheted off of the presidential car and hit Reagan's torso, just under his left arm. Luckily for Reagan, the bullet had failed to explode. It had also narrowly missed his heart.

By all accounts, Reagan remained in good spirits throughout the entire encounter, including making some now-famous, humorous comments. One of these comments was to his wife, Nancy Reagan, when she came to see him in the hospital. Reagan told her, "Honey, I forgot to duck."

Another comment was directed to his surgeons as Reagan entered the operating room. Reagan said, "Please tell me you're all Republicans." One of the surgeons responded, "Today, Mr. President, we're all Republicans."

After spending 12 days in the hospital, Reagan was sent home on April 11, 1981.

What Happened to John Hinckley?

Immediately after Hinckley fired the six bullets at President Reagan, Secret Service agents, bystanders, and police officers all jumped on Hinckley. Hinckley was then quickly taken into custody.

In 1982, Hinckley was put on trial for attempting to assassinate the President of the United States. Since the entire assassination attempt had been caught on film and Hinckley had been captured at the scene of the crime, Hinckley's guilt was obvious. Thus, Hinckley's lawyer tried using the insanity plea.

It was true; Hinckley did have a long history of mental problems. Plus, for years, Hinckley had been obsessed with and stalked actress Jodie Foster.

Based on Hinckley's warped view of the movie Taxi Driver, Hinckley hoped to rescue Foster by killing the President. This, Hinckley believed, would guarantee Foster's affection.

On June 21, 1982, Hinckley was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" on all 13 counts against him. After the trial, Hinckley was confined to St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

Recently, Hinckley has been awarded privileges which allow him to leave the hospital, for several days at a time, to visit his parents.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Reagan Assassination Attempt." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2023, April 5). Reagan Assassination Attempt. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Reagan Assassination Attempt." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).