John Hinckley Jr. Attempted To Assassinate Another President Before Reagan

Almost 20 years after the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the United States was shocked and terrified when then-President Ronald Reagan was shot just three months into his presidency, on March 31, 1981 (via History). However, this attempt by John Hinckley Jr. was not the first time he had attempted to take the life of a president. In fact, just a half-year earlier, in October 1980, Hinckley was thwarted when he tried to kill President Jimmy Carter at a campaign rally, according to History. 

The reasons why Hinckley wanted to kill the president of the United States are even more strange, however, and the results of his attempt on President Reagan's life would change how courts in the United States treated the insanity defense up to today. Ultimately, it all had to do with Hinckley's unrequited love for actress and director Jodie Foster, and his hope to make her his own. 

Inspiration from film

John Hinckley Jr. was raised in Dallas, Texas, and attended Highland Park High School for most of his life (via WFAA). Though he played sports and was even popular in middle school, when he got to high school he increasingly began clocking out and becoming more of a loner, spending lots of time listening to music, according to History. He would inconsistently attend Texas Tech University but dropped out indefinitely to move to the West Coast and pursue a career as a musician.

During this time, his dreams weren't fulfilled, but he had begun an obsession with Martin Scorsese's 1976 film "Taxi Driver" (via History). The film told the story of a mentally ill man named Travis Bickle, who was trying to impress a girl by assassinating a fictional presidential candidate. Hinckley took inspiration from the movie. Jodie Foster played the role of a sex worker in the movie, and it was from here that Hinckley would begin stalking the actress and devising his own schemes to impress her in the same way Bickle did.

The first target

When Jodie Foster attended Yale University, John Hinckley Jr. had stalked her and would often send her letters and even call her personally, according to History. After many failed attempts to gain her love and admiration, Hinckley would then pursue the path of the fictional Travis Bickle and plan an assassination on then-President Jimmy Carter at a campaign rally in October 1980 (via History).

Hinckley, however, was arrested in Nashville, Tennessee for carrying three pistols in his bags at the airport, according to WFAA. After the election in November 1980, whereby Ronald Reagan defeated Carter's re-election bid, Hinckley wrote Foster another letter, including the words, "One day you and I will occupy the White House and the peasants will drool with envy" (per History). This would later motivate Hinckley to attempt to assassinate President Reagan just a few months later, and with somewhat more successful results that shocked the nation.

The insanity defense

After Hinckley nearly succeeded in killing President Reagan — one bullet, a ricochet, struck just an inch from the president's heart — the nation would become outraged when Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, which forever changed the way the insanity defense was used across the nation (via History). After his trial, he was moved to St. Elizabeths, a psychiatric hospital in Washington D.C. where he would live for a couple of decades, being treated by psychiatrists and through group therapy, according to WFAA.

NPR reports that in September 2021, a judge ruled that Hinckley, now 67 years old, could live free of any restrictions, an order that was scheduled to take effect the following June 15. After years of treatment and supervision, Hinckley was deemed safe to live and function on his own. He now is pursuing a new musical career and working on a new country album, according to Rolling Stone. He also issued an apology letter to the American people, President Ronald Reagan's family, and Jodie Foster. He currently posts videos of him singing and playing guitar on his YouTube channels, and even has a booked-out show, per Newsweek. With decades of mental health treatment, Hinckley looks to form a new life for himself as a free man.