No one would have faulted James Brady from retiring from public life as he lived with the ramifications of being shot in the head during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Instead, Mr. Reagan's former press secretary overcame debilitating injuries to undertake a high-profile crusade for better gun control measures, a crusade that brought both satisfaction and frustration.

The shooting by John W. Hinckley Jr., which also wounded President Reagan, left Mr. Brady confined to a wheelchair for much of his life until he died Monday at the age of 73. Damage to his brain resulted in partial paralysis, slurred speech and constant pain, yet his relentless efforts led to passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a federal law requiring background checks on handgun buyers. He and his wife Sarah also created the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, which on Monday estimated that the Brady Act prevented the sale of roughly 2 million handguns to criminals, abusers and others who posed dangers to society.

A lifelong Republican known for his brutal honesty and sharp wit, Mr. Brady was from an era when his party was willing to compromise and didn't take its marching orders from extreme special interest groups like the National Rifle Association. His effort to persuade his party to restore a federal ban on assault weapons in 2004 was unsuccessful, as was his work to persuade congressional Republicans to back tougher gun control laws in the wake of the massacre of school children in Newtown, Conn. in 2012.


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"I wouldn't be in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation," said Mr. Brady in 2011. He knew-first hand of the horrors that can be wrought by guns when they end up in the wrong hands, and his legacy will be the passage of legislation that saved lives and spared others crippling injury. Mr. Brady's frustration that more common-sense gun legislation has not made it through Washington, D.C., because of politics, cowardice and special interest money is shared by millions of Americans.