John Hinckley is now free, but I can’t forget the day he shot my father
John Hinckley Jr. arrives at U.S. District Court in Washington on Nov. 18, 2003. (Evan Vucci/AP) Opinion by Patti Davis September 28 at 6:48 am Taiwan Time Patti Davis is the author, most recently, of the “Floating in the Deep End: How Caregivers can See Beyond Alzheimer’s" and the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
Over the years, I have written other columns about John Hinckley, pretty much every time he has lobbied for — and gotten — more freedom. Every time I have weighed in my mind the value of informing people that this man who shot four people on a chilly March day in 1981 — shooting three of them out of the way so he could try to kill my father — shouldn’t be granted more liberty. I have weighed that against the reality that by writing I was giving Hinckley, a diagnosed narcissist, the attention he craved. It’s a devil’s bargain, and even though I believe I’ve been right in speaking out, I have never felt good about it. Now, Hinckley’s last restrictions have been lifted. He can now, if he wants, contact me, my siblings and the actress Jodie Foster, whom, as is well known, he was trying to impress by carrying out his ambush. His lawyer, Barry Levine, said Monday that Hinckley wanted to express “profound regret” to the families of his victims, Foster and the American people. I was going to stay silent this time. But again I bargained with the devil, and again I decided that silence wasn’t an option. I think I always knew this day would come. Levine has been relentless on Hinckley’s behalf; he wasn’t going to stop until he secured complete freedom for his client. People’s memories have faded. That burst of gunfire outside the Washington Hilton was a long time ago. I have friends who weren’t even born then. But for me, for my family, for Foster, the memory of that day will never fade. In my mind’s eye, I will always picture Hinckley’s cold eyes as he blew open White House press secretary Jim Brady’s head, as he wounded Secret Service Special Agent Tim McCarthy and Metropolitan Police Department Officer Thomas Delahanty. I will always picture my father being shoved into the limousine after a shot struck his lung and nearly grazed his heart. Recently, a decision to recommend parole for Sirhan Sirhan divided the Kennedy family, as well as much of the public. A half-century has passed since 1968, one of the arguments for his release went. But the family members who objected know this: When someone you love is gunned down, time doesn’t move on from that day, that hour, that moment. That event is your prison, and there is no release from it. I understand struggling for forgiveness, but it’s like peering out from between the prison bars. I don’t believe that John Hinckley feels remorse. Narcissists rarely do. I don’t believe that the man who wrote letters to Charles Manson and Ted Bundy while he was in St. Elizabeths Hospital regrets what he did. He and his attorney have worked the system from the beginning and, finding a judge who was sympathetic to them, made this day inevitable. In my new book, “Floating in the Deep End,” which is about Alzheimer’s, I wrote about the fear that my father would die from the bullet that Hinckley shot into him, and in a strange way it was less frightening to lose him to Alzheimer’s — at least I had some understanding of who the thief was that was going to end his life. And now there is another fear — that the man who wielded that gun and almost got his wish of assassinating the president could decide to contact me. There is no manual for how to deal with something like this. You can’t Google it or look for reference material. You just have to live with the fear, and the anger, and the darkness that one person keeps bringing into your life.