Just Like Romeo and Juliet, But Crazy

John Hinckley suffered from sundry mental illnesses, but Borderline Personality Disorder seems like his alpha dysfunction. His particular flavor of crazy took him to some very dark places.

The medical term is erotomania. This is a rare condition wherein a mentally ill person becomes fixated on another, typically someone of a higher or untouchable social or economic state. This fascinating bit of psychopathology can drive those so afflicted to some most remarkable lengths.

John Warnock Hinckley Jr. was born in 1955 to a wealthy family in Ardmore, Oklahoma. The youngest of three siblings, John was a popular kid in grade school. He learned to play the piano, was active in sports, and was elected class president twice.

John Hinckley struggled to fit into a world he was not equipped to understand.

Hinckley attempted college but dropped out. He tried to make it as a songwriter in California, but that fizzled as well. As his personal life started to circle the drain he was prescribed psychotropic medications. Then in 1976, a 21-year-old John Hinckley watched a movie that changed his life.

For some unfathomable reason, Hinckley developed an irrational fixation on the actress Jodie Foster.

Taxi Driver starred Jodie Foster as an underage prostitute. Hinckley saw the movie fifteen times in the theater. Someplace deep in his troubled brain, a little switch flipped, and it was game on. Hinckley became convinced that he and Jodie Foster were destined to be together. When asked later what he thought about at night he responded, “Jodie, Jodie, Jodie, and then there’s Jodie…”

Love Unrequited Can Be a Powerful Force Indeed

John Hinckley invested his life in attempting to connect with Jodie Foster.

Hinckley pursued Jodie Foster to New Haven, Connecticut, where Ms. Foster attended Yale University. John took a writing class there in an effort at making contact. He slipped notes underneath her dorm room door and actually spoke with her twice on the phone. When it became obvious that Jodie was not impressed, John determined it was time for drastic measures. John Hinckley would kill the President.

Hinckley wrote Foster dozens of creepy letters, slipping them underneath the door to her dorm room.  

Hinckley became oddly convinced that if only he could assassinate President Jimmy Carter then Jodie Foster would become instantly smitten with him. He trailed President Carter through several states and at one point got close enough to touch him. He was eventually arrested in Nashville for possession of a firearm in an airport.

John Hinckley never quite broke the code on how to impress girls. Here Hinckley is shown outside Ford’s Theater where John Wilkes Booth shot and killed Abraham Lincoln.

After a literal lifetime of unremitting study and 31 years of marital bliss, I can honestly say I still don’t understand women very well. It seems John Hinckley was markedly more clueless than am I.

The Setting

The Rohm RG-14 was the edible underpants of handguns. Thankfully it was all Hinckley could afford.

Being a professional creepy stalker apparently doesn’t pay terribly well, so Hinckley was fairly destitute by now. As a result, when he went to purchase a firearm from Rocky’s Pawn Shop in Dallas, Texas, the best he could afford was a craptastic Rohm RG-14 .22LR revolver. In an effort at making his uber-cheap pistol more effective he loaded it with .22LR Devastator explosive bullets.

Hinckley stuffed his cheap .22LR revolver with Devastator exploding bullets.  

These hollowpoint bullets came packed with a small amount of shock-sensitive aluminum and lead azide explosive compound. Originally developed for use by Sky Marshals, the intent was to produce wounds disproportionate to the caliber of the firearm with minimal excessive penetration.

The venue for President Reagan’s speech this fateful day was considered fairly secure.

On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan was 69 days into his first term as President. Hinckley serendipitously discovered President Reagan’s schedule in The Washington Star and, thusly equipped, posted himself outside the Washington Hilton Hotel within a group of spectators. While attendees to Reagan’s speech to the AFL-CIO were thoroughly screened, the crowd outside got little scrutiny. The DC Hilton was considered a desirable venue because it had a covered “President’s Walk.” This walkway allowed VIPs access from the building to a waiting car with minimal exposure. On this particular day, Reagan stopped at his Presidential limousine to take a few questions.

The Shooting

This image was captured moments before Hinckley pulled the trigger.

The Secret Service typically mandated that the President wear body armor when in public. Reagan demurred, as the exposure was only 30 feet between the hotel and his limo. As Reagan turned to take a question from Mike Putzel of the Associated Press, he unwittingly passed right in front of Hinckley.

Hinckley emptied his handgun before the President’s security detail could stop him.

Hinckley fired all six rounds from his cheap pawnshop pistol in 1.7 seconds, missing Reagan completely.

James Brady and Thomas Delahanty went down immediately.

The first round struck White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head and detonated. The second struck DC police officer Thomas Delahanty in the back of the neck as he instinctively turned to protect the President. Hinckley now had a clear shot at Reagan but simply missed. This third bullet went high and struck a window in the building across the street.

This image captures President Reagan immediately after he was hit. Special Agent in Charge Jerry Parr is on the right.

In a moment of reflexive selfless bravery, Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy interposed himself between Hinckley and Reagan and caught the fourth round in the belly for his trouble. The fifth round struck the armored glass on Reagan’s limo. The sixth and final projectile struck a component of the armored limo, ricocheted, and entered President Reagan’s chest through his left armpit.

The Wound

Bullets can do some of the unnatural things once they leave a firearm.

My own experience in an urban ER has shown that bullets can be almost supernaturally unpredictable. In the case of Reagan’s .22-caliber Devastator round the bullet grazed a rib and penetrated his left lung, stopping less than an inch from his heart. As Special Agent in Charge Jerry Parr had been necessarily rough in throwing Reagan into the limo it was assumed that the President’s immediate chest pain was the result of this harsh handling. When Reagan began spitting up frothy blood it became obvious that the situation was more dire.

Parr made the call to divert directly to George Washington hospital and likely saved the President’s life. When they arrived at the ER there were no gurneys readily available. President Reagan walked into the building without assistance, smiling at onlookers. Once inside he collapsed.

Despite timely access to superb surgical care President Reagan very nearly bled out.

Drs. Benjamin Aaron and Joseph Giordano conducted an emergency thoracotomy on Reagan that took some 105 minutes. During this procedure, the President lost more than half his blood volume. Before going under, Reagan quipped to the OR staff, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.”

Dr. Giordano, a liberal Democrat, responded, “Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans.”

The Gun

This is the Rohm RG-14 .22LR revolver John Hinckley used to shoot President Reagan.

To call the Rohm Gesellschaft RG-14 a piece of crap does a disservice to crap. This cheap German revolver is proof positive that not everything the Germans design is a sterling example of the engineer’s art. The RG-14 is the archetypal Saturday Night Special.

The RG-14 was designed from the outset to be inexpensive to produce.

The RG-14 sports a flimsy plastic front sight and comparably cheap plastic grips. The design is blocky and unattractive, while the large hammer tends to catch on things. However, the double action trigger is smooth and consistent. The single action trigger is actually surprisingly crisp. The gun holds the expected six rounds.

Hinckley had wanted a more serious firearm for his assassination attempt but could not afford anything spunkier than a .22.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibited importation of small cheap handguns like the RG-14, so the RG Company undertook production in Miami. This factory closed for good in 1986. Sundry RG handguns were produced in .22, .25ACP, .32ACP, and .38 Special.

The Aftermath

I am old enough to have voted for Ronald Reagan. He helped the country when it was a better, nicer, simpler place.

President Reagan was a stud, so he signed a piece of legislation the day after he lost half his blood volume. He spent thirteen days in the hospital. During this time his approval rating reached 73%.

Taking a bullet for the President looks pretty good on your resume. Timothy McCarthy left the Secret Service and serves as the Police Chief of the Orland Park, Illinois, PD today.

Officer Delahanty had to be medically retired from the DC police force. Timothy McCarthy fully recovered and became the Police Chief in Orland Park, Illinois. Quite literally taking a bullet for the President probably made him a fairly compelling candidate for any Law Enforcement job on the planet.

Jerry Parr left the Secret Service and entered the ministry.

Jerry Parr had been inspired to join the Secret Service after seeing a 1939 movie titled Code of the Secret Service starring Ronald Reagan. Parr saw God’s Providence in the events this day and left the Secret Service to become a pastor.

James Brady was left partially paralyzed by his wound and subsequently died more than three decades later from complications.

James Brady was the most grievously wounded of the lot, being permanently disabled as the result of his head wound. He and his wife Sarah subsequently devoted their lives to gun control. Their lobbying organization Handgun Control, Inc. morphed into the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The eponymous 1993 Brady Bill that mandates background checks for gun purchases was the result of their efforts.

Brady died in August of 2014, some 33 years after the shooting. As he did ultimately expire as the result of complications from his injury, the medical examiner declared his death a homicide. However, for a variety of arcane legal reasons, Hinckley was never charged with his murder.

John Hinckley is now free to live in the community. His Internet usage and whereabouts are monitored. He is prohibited from doing Internet searches about himself, the attempted Reagan assassination, pornography, or Jodie Foster.

John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the next 34 years in a mental institution. During that time he corresponded with serial killer Ted Bundy and expressed no regrets. He declared that the shooting was, “The greatest love offering of all time.” In September of 2016, Hinckley was allowed to leave the mental hospital and take up supervised residence with his 90-year-old mother. Two years later he was granted permission by the courts to move out on his own.

Jodie Foster refuses to discuss the subject of John Hinckley publically.

Jodie Foster has publically acknowledged Hinckley only three times since the shooting. She has otherwise canceled or walked out of every interview wherein the subject of John Hinckley was broached.

Secret Service Agent Robert Wanko brandished an Uzi submachine gun during the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. These images subsequently became iconic. Note that the bolt is not retracted and Wanko’s finger is appropriately outside the trigger guard.


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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Ejharbet July 1, 2019, 7:52 pm

    A 3inch rg14 was my first handgun,i paid $50 for it NIB in 1981.it tought me to appreciate quality before perishing of toomanyroundsitis,lol

  • Old OutdoorsGuy June 17, 2019, 8:52 am

    Jeez, where to start?? You have photos of 3 totally different weapons in this charade of a story, the 1st B/W photo is so far removed from an actual RG-14 that I am surprised that one of the gun “experts” following this thread hadn’t picked up on the differences. The frame bears absolutely NO resemblance to an RG-14 frame, different configuration, different size, different extractor rod, different everything even down to the bulls eye logo on the grip scales.

    The 2nd and 3rd photos, in the middle of the writing, look to be an authentic RG-14 with one of them being tagged with an exhibit tag that I suppose is part of the original evidence of the shooting. Look at the differences in every aspect of these 2 firearms, there is no similarity in any part of these weapons to each other!

    The 4th photo and the 3rd different firearm in this faulty “collection” of photos, is an RG-14 but, as the 1st photo also plainly shows, both of these weapons are of a different barrel length than the weapon in question. This also explains the confusion of showing two different types of .22 ammunition in the photos, the pistol in the .22LR photo isn’t even close to the brand of weapon used in the shooting and it simply was showing the proper caliber of ammo to use in that weapon.

    And, regarding the use of .22LR ammo interchangeably with .22WMR ammo, it was mentioned in another reply that you can not and should not ever try to shoot magnum ammo in a weapon designed for long rifle caliber ammo. They are chambered differently, the brass is different in length, and you could easily turn your “Saturday night Special” into a shooter’s suicide bomb should you try to fire that weapon with anything but regular .22 ammo. I didn’t even bring up the length of the cylinder as it should be quite obvious that a .22WMR round will not fit into a .22LR cylinder because of the chambering and the casing length differences.

    The “Devastator” ammo box was also something that reflected very poor journalism, in my opinion, you don’t simply substitute something “close” in an attempt to show the difference in a specialized type of ammo to a regular off the shelf type of ammo. This makes me wonder if the photo in the operatory was authentic or simply a clip photo from an episode of “ER”??

    All in all, I am wondering what the point of this article was about?? It made for some crazy reading, showed some memorable photos of an incident of which I clearly recall from my younger years, but as an accurate and objective glance back at a botched attempt to assassinate the POTUS, it lacks sorely in detail and accuracy. And to top things off, it makes Agent Wanko appear to be posing for his own photo op for a shaving commercial ……

  • Norm Fishler June 11, 2019, 7:18 pm

    What we have is a well established pattern that has threaded its way through many assassination attempts going back over 100 years. Single, sexually messed up, using a controversial weapon, ammunition or the acquiring of the weapons in a controversial manner. Mountains of evidence are ignored. Military background in covert activities or psychs-ops with parents also heavily involved in behavior modification. There is also almost always a domineering mother in the mix.

  • DXR June 11, 2019, 10:38 am

    Funny how the author skips over the evidence of CIA involvement in an assassination attempt perpetrated AGAIN, by VP POPPY.

    WHY was the limousine MOVED 40 feet away from the PRESIDENT’S exiting door? (Totally contradicting established SS procedure)

    WHERE is the bullet that was supposedly extracted from the PRESIDENT?

    WHO was on top of the balcony?

    Never Forget #911WASAJEWJOB

  • Norm Fishler June 10, 2019, 9:17 pm

    It is not often that I disagree with Dr. Dabbs but when it comes to the RG 14, I do. Since the Reagan assignation attempt I have probably had ten of them and have never found a one of them lacking. They are what they are. One needs to keep in mind that you are not acquiring something for Olympic match competition. I bought my first one around 1983 for $20 and the last one I got was new in the box for $65. As a short range belly button blaster they are more than adequate. It used to be said that “RG” stood for “Rotten Gun” and not without good reason. The pot metal construction and crummy finish were bad enough, but its biggest failing was the fragile zinc alloy firing pins that absolutely could not handle ANY dry firing. To further add insult to injury, replacement parts were nonexistent. But for a tackle-box gun or something for the glove box in your work truck, I believe they are just what the doctor ordered (sorry Will).

  • Dave June 10, 2019, 6:48 pm

    Excellent article, as always. Forget all the sports “hero” crap, anyone who jumps in front of a bullet IS A HERO.
    I sincerely hope Delahanty and Mcarthy are doing well.

  • glock19fan June 10, 2019, 6:07 pm

    And to think that Hinckley never knew that Jodie Foster is gay.

  • Todd June 10, 2019, 11:03 am

    Why are there 2 different pics of the .22 pistol? One is a snubnose & the other has a 3″ (4″?) barrel?

  • stephen June 10, 2019, 10:59 am

    in regards to the shot with the Uzi, doesn’t the bolt stay back and the charging handle go forward on full auto Uzis? meaning the bolt very likely could have been back? or am I misunderstanding what you’re saying?

    • Will Dabbs June 10, 2019, 12:35 pm

      On an Uzi the charging handle has a ratchet mechanism that prevents the bolt from being partially retracted. It also does not reciprocate with the bolt so at rest the knob is always forward. You can tell the bolt is forward just because the ejection port is occluded. To actually fire his weapon Agent Wanko would have had to throw the bolt back and then pull the trigger. I suspect this was SS policy in a crowded situation like this. I always thought those were cool pictures.

  • Derol F. Briscoe June 10, 2019, 10:15 am

    You can’t put .22 magnum cartridges in a gun chambered for .22 long rifle.

  • mike June 10, 2019, 10:02 am

    Good just the facts Joe Friday article.

  • D Raymond June 10, 2019, 10:01 am

    I will never understand why all the “conservative” gun owners of America revere Reagan! That SOB enacted more gun control and banned more guns than most liberals. Honestly, it appears that Republicans bend all “law abiding” citizens (read: compliant b*tch boys) over and ram it in deep with no K-Y.
    When will all of you wake up, bam together and TELL THE GOVERNMENT THAT WORKS FOR YOU “NO MORE” And refuse to comply?

  • shane m connor June 10, 2019, 9:53 am

    Some press coverage from back then, especially interesting the weird Bush connection with Hinckley family. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_mvsF42PQ0

  • BRASS June 10, 2019, 9:28 am

    Looking at the pictures used in this article – I call bullshit.
    1. Look at the cylinder length of the gun shown in all the pictures…. It’s long enough only for .22LR cartridges.
    2. Look at the ammo they say he used…. It’s .22 Magnum and too long to fit in the short cylinder of the gun depicted.
    3. There is and was no such thing as ‘exploding’ .22LR ammo. The cutaway .22 Mag cartridge shown clearly shows a common hollow point bullet used to enhance expansion.
    4. One picture shows .22 LR cartridges with the weapon and others show .22 Magnum. Seems sloppy to me.

  • Phil June 10, 2019, 8:50 am

    The real issue here is that an unsophisticated gun shooter, with a cheap gun can get to POTUS despite the Secret Service and their UZI submachine guns… He didn’t have a Glock…did not practice at the range yet he was sucessfull had he done some work at the range….Reagan would have died……anyone can be shot…a Black Football player who was famous was shot last night at a night club……40 young Black gangsters in Chicago were killed a week ago….the new Black mayor could not stop the gang war……

    • KO June 10, 2019, 9:52 am

      Careful there Phil, starting to sound a little Hinckleyesque towards the word black. So far, it’s just the first letter capitalized…if you escalate to all caps, it might be time to call one of those hotlines.

  • ATheoK June 10, 2019, 8:21 am

    Decent finish, looks and sounds like good machining, decent action by your own description and Hinckley was able to keep his shots relatively on target.

    Most importantly, when sold, that pistol was more than a weeks wages. Keep in mind that wages were very low at that time. My salary was $2.75/hr. when Hinckley bought that pistol, Hinckley was indigent.
    I knew WWII and Korean War veterans raising families on wages less than $3/hr.

    That makes that Rohm a high ranking prince amongst Saturday Night Specials.
    Nor is the parent company, Rohm, known for sloppy machining and tolerances and poor finishes.

    Saturday Night Specials were generally unmarked or only marked with seller applied markings; e.g. ‘Jones Hardware’, and cheap enough for punks to purchase for a few dollars.
    SN specials are universally known for horrible actions, poor quality finish and accuracy so bad that hitting a target at 10 feet is near impossible. They were guns meant for threatening or when used, shoved into a persons belly before pulling the trigger.

    One Saturday Night Special that I fired, I ended up shooting at a cinder block wall from 6 feet in order to capture and find the bullets. I only found two out of six.

    Good informative article otherwise.

  • Hendrik Haan June 10, 2019, 7:05 am

    Wow! The Fruitcake Hinckley looks like Jeb Bush!

    • Phil June 10, 2019, 8:52 am

      Remember, not only Reagan was shot at this time…it was at least two others…all with a cheap gun.

    • KO June 10, 2019, 9:43 am

      And Agent Wanko looks like Front Sight’s Ignatious Piazza. Wish I could pull off a mustache like those guys.

  • Mark N. June 10, 2019, 12:54 am

    Love this series, but one question: does a .22 Mag really fit in a .22LR revolver?

    • Will June 10, 2019, 7:36 am

      That was the only picture I could find of Devastator bullets.

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