A federal judge has ruled that John Hinckley Jr., the mentally disturbed man who tried to assassinate my father 35 years ago, will be set free in about a week.
Many people, including members of my own family, think it’s a terrible injustice that Hinckley, now 61, will be allowed to leave the mental hospital and live permanently with his elderly mother in Virginia.
Before I explain, I’d like to remind people of what my father said and did in the days following the events of March 30, 1981.
When I walked into his hospital room the next day and saw my wounded father, the first thing he said to me, after “Good morning,” was “Michael, if you’re ever going to be shot, don’t be wearing a new suit.”
What? I thought to myself.
“Well, yesterday I was shot.”
“I know, father. I know.”
“Well, I was wearing a brand new suit I had just picked up the day before. And I’m telling you, if you’re going to get shot don’t be wearing a new suit.
“When I was on the gurney they cut that suit off me and the last time I saw it it was in shreds in the corner of my hospital room. That’s what they do. They cut it off you.”
My father was only half done with his story.
“That young man who shot me, John Hinckley Jr., I understand his parents are in the oil biz.”
“Yes they are, Dad.”
“I understand they live in Denver.”
“Yes they do, Dad.
“Do you think they have any money?”
“Dad,” I said, “they are in the oil business and live in Denver. Of course they have money.”
My dad looked at me and said, “Well, do you think they’d buy me a new suit?”
Humor was my dad’s way of making strangers feel comfortable in his presence. He was the same way with his family.
Before my father was well enough to go back to the White House he did something completely serious. He said he had forgiven Hinckley.
Not only that, he wanted to go to meet Hinckley face-to-face and tell him that he had forgiven him.
Hinckley’s doctors didn’t think that was a good idea because Hinckley was too mentally unstable, so it never happened.
But it proves, as I always like to say, that my father didn’t just recite “The Lord’s Prayer,” he lived it.
A lot of people can’t forgive Hinckley even today.
They were shocked in 1981 when he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and they were angry when they found out he’d become eligible for release some day.
Because of Hinckley, the laws were changed. Today if you shoot at the president you stay in prison for life, no matter how crazy you are.
Over the years all of us in the families hurt by Hinckley have watched the courts and doctors slowly but surely release him through the mental health system.
Hinckley’s not a threat to my family or anyone else’s. But he’s not totally free and never will be.
He may not have bars to look through, but he has his own type of jail. People will be watching him all the time. So will the Secret Service.
At first I was very upset and angry when Hinckley got off on the insanity defense. How could a person shoot the president of the United States and be allowed to ever have any freedom at all?
Fifteen years ago I was still angry. But 15 years later I want to be more like my father and have a forgiving heart, not an angry heart.
So at the same time John Hinckley has been set free, maybe I have been too.
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