John Hinckley, Jr.'s Other Targets

By | March 17, 2022

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President Ronald Reagan waves to onlookers moments before an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. on March 30, 1981. (The White House/Getty Images)

John Hinckley, Jr. is remembered as the man who shot President Ronald Reagan to impress then-20-year-old actress Jodie Foster, but his target made little difference to him. All that mattered was that he'd fallen in love with Foster after watching the 1976 Martin Scorsese classic Taxi Driver (in which, it should be noted, Foster was only 12 years old) dozens of times, but his letters to her had gone unanswered, so he'd resolved to get her attention just like Robert De Niro's character, with whom he identified, by assassinating a high-profile politician.

Considering Carter

First, Hinckley set his sights on Jimmy Carter, who was president of the United States at the time Hinckley started making his plans in fall 1980. Armed with two revolvers, Hinckley flew to Washington, D.C. and posted up in a hotel room just blocks from the White House, but Carter was on the reelection campaign trail, so Hinckley hopped a bus to meet him in Dayton, Ohio on October 2. After Carter finished his speech and descended into the crowd to shake hands with his supporters, Hinckley found himself just a few feet from the president, but Dayton was just a test run to see how close he could get. Satisfied with his experiment, he set off for Nashville, where Carter was scheduled to speak at the Grand Ole Opry on October 9, but the would-be gunman got cold feet. On the way back to Washington, he was arrested at the Nashville airport after security found his guns, but he got off with only a $62.50 fine. Had airport security opened Hinckley's journal, which was in his suitcase next to his guns, they would have learned about his plans to shoot Carter.

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F.B.I. mugshot of John Hinckley, Jr. (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation/Wikimedia Commons)

Kennedy And Reagan

It didn't much matter because Hinckley soon lost interest in Carter, as the president's reelection odds weren't looking good and Hinckley decided a victim on the cusp of losing wasn't impressive enough. He briefly targeted Edward M. Kennedy in early 1981 and even went so far as to wait outside the senator's office, armed and ready, but Kennedy never showed up. Hinckley then walked to the Capitol, hoping to find Kennedy there, but the metal detectors at the entrance scared him off, so he decided to take a nice White House tour instead. No one in the executive mansion nor anyone in his tour group knew he had a loaded gun with him.

Hinckley finally settled on Ronald Reagan, the winner of the 1980 presidential election, and on March 29, 1981, he checked into the Park Century Hotel, two blocks away from the White House and right across the street from Secret Service headquarters, where he wrote a five-page letter to Foster, expressing his love for her and explaining his plans. The next day, Reagan was slated to speak at the Washington Hilton Hotel, so Hinckley waited outside and fired on the president as he left. A Secret Service agent, a police officer, and Press Secretary James Brady were also wounded.

Though he'd finally followed through on his months-long endeavor, it's hard to say that Hinckley succeeded. Reagan survived, as did all three additional victims; Hinckley was remanded to a psychiatric institution, not to be released until 2016; and even if political assassinations were the kind of thing that got her motor running, Hinckley never had a chance with Foster, who came out as a lesbian in 2007. Until Hinckley was arrested, Carter and Kennedy had no idea how close they were to being assassinated.