Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

This Week in History: Reagan Targeted in Assassination Attempt

Photograph of President Reagan waving to crowds immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt

Photograph of President Reagan waving to crowds immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt, Washington Hilton Hotel, March 30, 1981. Photo Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

On March 30, 1981, barely two months into his presidency, President Ronald Reagan was the target of an assassination attempt, which left him and three others seriously wounded. Press Secretary James Brady suffered a gunshot wound to the head that would leave him permanently injured, while Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the chest and Washington, DC police officer Thomas Delahanty was hit near the spine. As Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery, administration aides downplayed the severity of the injuries. However, inside the operating room, the situation was anything but humorous as Reagan lost nearly half his blood supply and had to endure hours of surgery to remove a bullet lodged less than an inch from his heart.

The Reagan Oral History Project examined this event with each participant that was in the administration at the time of the shooting. Read on for excerpts of these officials' reactions to the assassination attempt and how each responded to the early phase of the crisis.