An assassination attempt has once again marred the US presidency. The wounding of President Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel March 30 is certain to push the problem of pervasive violence and crime in the nation to the forefront of public, congressional, and judicial concern.
A new President who was vigorously leading the nation toward a sharp turnaround in economic and social policy now is sidelined at least temporarily. The momentum of his reform drive has been jolted to at least temporary halt.
Can the nation quickly return to the debate over budget and tax cuts when it is clear that, despite the most careful security steps by highly trained secret service men, the President of the United States still cannot safely appear in public?
President Reagan was shot in the left chest at close range by an assailant as he was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel Monday afternoon. At press time, the President was undergoing surgery and his condition was reported to be stable.
President Reagan was the sixth target of a presidential assailant in this century, and the second in less than six years.
President Ford twice escaped assassination attempts. On Sept. 5, 1975, in Sacramento, Calif., Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, follower of Charles Manson, was arrested as she pointed a pistol at President Ford. She was seized and later convicted.
On Sept. 22, 1975, President Ford was leaving a San Francisco hotel when a . 38 caliber handgun went off, ricocheted, striking a cab driver. Mr. Ford escaped unharmed. The suspected assailant, Sara Jane Moore, was seized and is now serving a prison sentence.
President Carter had received several assassination threats.
Mr. Reagan, early in the 1976 campaign for the presidency, received a scare when a man pulled a toy gun on him outside a Hollywood, Fla., hotel. Reagan was rushed to the hotel and the man was arrested.
In Monday's inicdent, according to Nofziger, the President walked into the hospital and apparently did not know he had been shot.
The president's press secretary, James Brady, also was struck and suffered a head wound. Said a White House aide of Brady's wound: "It doesn't look good." Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and a policeman were also reported hit by gunfire from what authorities now report as the assailant's .22 caliber handgun.
According to reports the bullet entered Reagan's body under the left arm and missed his heart.
Nofziger, when asked if the wound was serious, said, "Obviously a wound in the chest is a serious wound."
But Nofziger emphasized that Reagan had not lost consciousness and had walked into the hospital talking to his companions.
Early reports from TV and wire services indicated that Reagan had escaped the assailant's attack. Nofziger said this occurred simply because Reagan "apparently did not know he had been shot at the time."
The Secret Service identified the alleged assailant as John Warnock Hinkley Jr. of Evergreen, Colo. Four or five shots were fired at close range by the gunman, and the Secret Service immediately shoved Reagan into his waiting limousine. The assailant was immediately thrown to the ground and pinned by Secret Service men and police offers. He was quickly whisked away in a squad car.
Nancy Reagan, who was not with the president at the hotel, rushed to the hospital to be with her husband.
Officials said shots, coming on the 70th day of his presidency, struck the bulletproof limousine, lodging in the side and striking the windshield, leaving a pockmark but not penetrating the glass.
The bullet entered Reagan's body under the left arm, and missed the president's heart.
Hank Brown, an ABC camerman, said the gunman "just opened up and kept squeezing the trigger."
Vice President George Bush, en route from Fort Worth to Austin to address the Texas legislature, was ordered to fly directly back to Washington.
But he said Reagan had not lost consciousness and had walked into the hospital talking to his companions.
Asked why Deputy White House Press Secretary Karna Small originally said the president had not been shot, Nofziger said Reagan "apparently did not know he had been shot at the t ime."