The attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, and the murder of six innocent bystanders, at a meet and greet with constituents on Jan. 8, was a shocking and tragic event nationwide. Unfortunately, trying to kill American politicians is neither unique nor new.
On Jan. 30, 1835, a house painter named Richard Lawrence, who apparently believed he was King Rcihard III of England, and that the American President Andrew Jackson was withholding his rightful treasure, approached Jackson as the President was exiting a funeral in Washington. Lawrence fired a flintlock pistol at Jackson's back from about 15 feet away. It misfired. Lawrence stepped closer to point-blank range and fired a second flintlock. It also misfired. The President, with the aid of Davy Crockett and others, subdued Lawrence, who was committed for life for insanity.
On May 22, 1856, in the heated times leading up to the Civil War, pro-slavery Sen. Preston Brooks, D-SC, walked across the floor of a near empty U.S. Senate chamber and, with a gold-tipped hard wood cane, beat Sen. Charles Sumner, R-MA, within an inch of his life, while Sumner struggled in vain to get up from his seat. Sumner had attacked pro-slavery lawmakers in speeches. He went through extensive rehabilitation before returning to the Senate. Brooks received dozens of canes from Southern admirers.
More than a few people wanted to kill Abraham Lincoln, and there were at least two attempts on life before John Wilkes Booth succeeded in murdering the 16th President. Lincoln's entourage to Washington for his inauguration in 1861 reportedly eluded assassins waiting to ambush the President-elect in Baltimore and, in 1864, during the Civil War, someone took shots at Lincoln as he rode by, causing his horse to bolt.
On April 14, 1865, which was Good Friday, Booth rushed up behind Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington and shot him in the back of the head. Lincoln died the next day. Booth was shot and killed 12 days later.
Rep. James M. Hinds, R-AK, was killed on Oct. 22, 1868 by George Clark, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, who was reportedly drunk at the time.
President James Garfield was in office less than four months on July 2, 1881, and was headed for a Washington train station to vacation in Long Branch, New Jersey, when Charles Guiteau, an unstable lawyer who believed Garfield owed him an ambassadorship, came through the crowd and shot the President twice in the back. Garfield died at the New Jersey resort 11 weeks later. Guiteau was hanged.
William McKineley, the nation's 25th President became the third assassinated Chief Executive on September 6, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. He also was shot twice, by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, who believed that the wealthy were exploiting the poor. Czolgosz was beaten almost to death on the spot, but lived to be electrocuted in October.
Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became President and won re-election. But, when out of office in 1912 and campaigning to get back in, TR took a bullet to the chest fired by John Schrank, a saloon-keeper who believed McKinley's ghost had told him to revenge his death. The bullet, from a .38 caliber revolver, was slowed by Roosevelt's metal glasses case and his folded, 50-page speech. Roosevelt gave the speech with the bullet in his chest, saying It takes more than one bullet to bring down a Bull Moose! He never had the slug removed. Schrank went to the insane asylum.
TR's cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt , not yet sworn in for his first of four terms as Chief Executive, was in Miami on February 15, 1933, when an Italian immigrant with health and mental problems, Giuseppe Zangara, fired five shots at FDR and those with him. Roosevelt was not struck. Four people were wounded and the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, was killed. There is speculation that Cermak and not Roosevelt was the target and that Zangara was working for Chicago gangster Al Capone. That's never been proven. Zangara was executed in March, 1933.
First an FDR ally, then a staunch opponent who was considering a presidential run against Roosevelt, Sen. Huey Long, D-LA, nicknamed Kingfish and a former Lousiana governor, was gunned down by Carl Weiss, a physician in Baton Rouge on September 10, 1935, for apparently political reasons. Weiss was shot by Long's bodyguards over 60 times and died at the scene.
On March 1, 1954, four members of a Puerto Rican liberation group opened fire with semi-automatic weapons from the Ladies Gallery onto the floor of the U.S. House of Represntatives chamber, which was full of Congress Members. Five were hit -- Alvin Morell Bentley, R- MI, Clifford Davis, D-TN, Ben Jensen, R-IA, George Fallon, D-MD and Kenneth Roberts, D-AL-- none fatally. The four Puerto Ricans got 70 years each, after President Eisenhower commuted their death sentences.
In December, 1960, Richard Pavlik, a former postal worker planned to kill President-elect John. F. Kennedy and himself in Palm Beach, Florida, by driving a dynamite-laden car into the Kennedy vehicle. He relented when he saw Kennedy's wife and child getting in the car.
JFK was killed in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was killed two days later by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, who said he was distraught by Kennedy's assassination. Theories on what really happened abound.
JFK's brother, Sen. Robert Kennedy, D-NY, was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, while running for President. The shooter, a Jordanian named Sirhan Sirhan, fired four shots from a .22 caliber pistol. He attacked Kennedy, according to his own diary, because of RFK's pledge to help Israel with fighter jets, if elected president.
Former Alabama governor and segregationist George Wallace, while campaigning for the Presidency in Laurel, Maryland was shot five times by Arthur Bremer on May 15, 1972, and left paralyzed from the waist down. Bremer's writing states that he shot Wallace for the fame of it.
On February 22, 1974, Samuel Byck, a former psychiatric patient who believed the government was conspiring against the poor, hijacked a plane on the ground at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, with the intention of flying it into the White House and killing President Richard Nixon. When he could not get the crew to take the plane up, he shot the pilot and co-pilot, then shot himself.
In 1975, President Gerald Ford escaped two assassination attempts within two weeks. On September 5, in Sacramento, CA, a follower of Charles Manson, Lynette Squeaky Fromme, drew a pistol on Ford when he went to shake her hand. She never fired a shot, was sentenced to life and was released on August 14, 2009.
On September 22, in San Francisco, CA, Sara Jane Moore, tried to shoot Ford, but a bystander grabbed her arm and the shot missed. Moore was sentenced to life, but paroled in 2007.
U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, D-CA, took a trip to Guyana to learn the condition of scores of people brought there by Jim Jones, the leader of the People's Temple. Jones ordered Ryan killed on November 18, 1978, before the Congressman could return to the U.S. Jones then poisoned hundreds of his followers in the Jonestown Massacre.
On March 30, 1981, only 69 days into his presidency, Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley, Jr. as he exited the Washington Hilton Hotel in D.C. Reagan and three others, including White House Press Secretary James Brady were wounded. Reagan was rushed to an area hospital. He suffered a punctured lung, but the prompt attention allowed him to recover fairly quickly. Brady, more severely injured, went on to become an advocate against guns and gun violence. Hinckley had an obsession with actress Jodie Foster from her role in the Martin Scorsese film Tax Driver in which the title character contemplates assassinating a U.S. Senator who is running for president. Hinckley was judged not guilty by reason of insanity. He remains confined to a psychiatric hospital.
On April 13, 1993, sixteen men, supposedly in the employ of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, tried to kill President George H.W. Bush with a car bomb in Kuwait, where Bush was giving a speech. Kuwaiti officials foiled the plot.
President Clinton was the target of at least two assassination attempts, one on September 12, 1994, when a man flew a small plane onto the White House lawn, intending to fly it into the building and kill Clinton. The man, Frank Eugene Corder, died in the crash. The First Family was not at home. On October 29 of the same year, Francisco Martin Duran fired 29 shots with a semi-automatic rifle at the White House from a fence overlooking the north lawn, thinking Clinton was among the men he saw on the lawn. Clinton was, rather, in the White House. No one was hurt. Three tourists tackled Duran, who got 40 years.
On May 10, 2005, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush were in Tbilisi, Georgia, with the President and First Lady of Georgia on a stage in Freedom Square. Bush was giving a speech. A man named Vladimir Arutyunian threw a live grenade near the podium. The pin was pulled but the grenade did not explode because the would-be assassin had wrapped a handkerchief too tightly around it. Arutyunian received a life sentence.