He took a bullet for his President. Literally.

On March 30th, 1981 James Brady had only been press secretary for Ronald Reagan for 69 days when a man named John Hinckley Jr. opened fire on the President and his entourage in an assassination attempt.

Hinckley was later found to have lied on his application for the .22 caliber handgun he used to shoot Brady and the President, and had recently been arrested in Nashville, Tennessee after attempting to sneak three handguns on a plane. It is well known that, in the midst of his battle with mental illness, he shot President Reagan in an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster. He was, by pretty much any measure, not an appropriate candidate for owning a firearm.

Though Reagan survived unscathed, Brady would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, but that didn’t stop him from being a political force for gun control.

By his death at 73 this week, Brady would become major force in the debate over gun control in the United States, even being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and having a Clinton-era law named after him which requires a background check on anyone purchasing a handgun.

Wherever we may stand on 2nd Amendment rights and gun control, James Brady’s experience and story can serve as an excellent reminder to champions of liberty.

Personal experience matters.

In a time where it is exceedingly easy for us to share our opinions with the world, we often get so wrapped up in how an issue effects our existence that we can forget to remember that our opinions are very much shaped by our personal experiences.

It is so easy, as a person who has never been shot, for me to shake my head at the efforts of gun-control advocates, but if I don’t at least consider the experience of someone who has had a bullet rip through their body, I am not doing service to my own argument.

For a pro-choice advocated to declare a 12 week old fetus “not a person” may elicit high-fives and nods from people who agree with her, but to a woman who has experienced a devastating miscarriage at that gestation, it’s a slap in the face and a heartless discount of her grief.

A libertarian saying all social safety nets should be eradicated  probably won’t sit well with someone who was raised by a single mother who fought with all she had to keep food on the table, even if it meant accepting government assistance from time to time.

James Brady’s life served as a reminder to many that gun violence can touch us all, and that sometimes the champion of something we disagree with isn’t just a bureaucrat who wants to limit our freedom for nefarious means. Empathy needs to become fashionable again, if we ever want to show our philosophy to be a legitimate one. Instead of condemning the people whose choices we don’t agree with, we should seek to understand their experience.