Ronald Reagan on Crime

President of the U.S., 1981-1989; Republican Governor (CA)


Survived 1981 assassination attempt by John Hinckley

A former Secret Service agent says, "People always ask, 'Hey, would you really take a bullet for the president? I say, 'What do you think, I'm stupid?' But what we'll do is we'll do everything in our power to keep the bullet out of the event. That's what the Secret Service is all about. It's about being prepared, and it's about training properly."

On Mar. 30, 1981, John Hinckley fired a revolver at Reagan as he left the Washington Hilton Hotel after giving a speech. Instinctively, Agent Timothy McCarth hurled himself in front of Reagan and took a bullet in the right chest. It passed through his right lung and lacerated his liver. While Secret Service agents have been wounded or killed during protection duty, McCarthy is the only agent to have actually taken a bullet for the president by stepping into the line of fire. In a second and a half, Hinckley fired six rounds. Besides McCarthy, a Metropolitan Police Officer & Press Secretary Jim Brady were wounded. Brady suffered extensive brain damage.

Source: In the President`s Secret Service, by R. Kessler, p.100&107 , Jun 29, 2009

Death penalty saves lives

After a highly publicized execution, Reagan received a letter that began, "Governor thanks for saving my life." The rest of the letter, Reagan recalled went something like this: "I run a liquor store. Last week, a thug broke in. He intended to rob us, but I resisted him. He wrestled me to the floor and poised his knife above my throat. I shouted out, 'Go ahead and kill me! You'll get the death penalty and be executed, just like the guy last week.' "

The letter continued, "He dropped the knife and ran from the store. Thank you, Governor. Your fortitude and resolve saved my life."

Reagan added, "In case anybody asks you about my position on capital punishment, you can tell them I favor it; and if they want to know why, you can tell them this story." In the end, capital punishment saves lives.

Source: Lessons From a Father to His Son, by John Ashcroftp.138-139 , May 5, 1998

Focus on murder victims while considering capital punishment

Reagan had faced the dilemma [of a governor's role in capital punishment] while serving as governor of California, Reagan recalled the demonstrators who regularly paraded in front of the governor's mansion. With a slight chuckle, the president mentioned how some Christian ministers began tolling their bells in anticipation of the execution. "I told them, 'If you toll your bells every time somebody is murdered, I won't mind if you do it every time the state executes a killer."
Source: Lessons From a Father to His Son, by John Ashcroft p.138-139 , May 5, 1998

Oversaw one execution as CA Gov., supported death penalty

On April 11, 1967, opponents of capital punishment held an all-night vigil outside Governor Reagan’s house to protest his refusal to grant clemency to Aaron Mitchell, sentenced to death for the murder of a Sacramento policeman. Reagan later said it the worst decision he had to make. Mitchell was executed at 10 AM the following day in San Quentin’s gas chamber.

This was the only execution carried out in California during Reagan’s 8 years as governor. Reagan granted clemency in the one other capital case that came to him, on the basis of evidence that the condemned man had a history of brain damage.

Reagan had been bitterly disappointed when the judge he had named to head the California Supreme Court wrote the decision striking down the state’s capital punishment statute after Reagan had left the Governor’s office.

Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 504 & 803 , Jul 2, 1991

Approved three new prisons and 6% growth in law enforcement

[In 1982, David Stockman presented] three budget levels for law enforcement called, at one extreme, for an increase of 14% in “real program growth” and the construction of seven new prisons. This was the increase requested by Attorney General William French Smith and designated level one on Stockman’s chart. At the other extreme, program growth was reduced by 5% and all new prisons eliminated. Reagan chose level two, which provided for program growth of nearly 6% and construction of three prisons.
Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 153 , Jul 2, 1991

Reform habeas corpus; more compassion for victims

Nothing has more threatened our sense of national well-being than the explosion of violent crime. One does not have to be attacked to be a victim. The woman who must run to her car after shopping at night is a victim, as is the tired cleaning woman who can't ride a subway home without being afraid.

We do not seek to violate the rights of defendants. But shouldn't we feel more compassion for the victims of crime than for those who commit crime? For the first time in 20 years, the crime index has fallen 2 years in a row. We've convicted over 7,400 drug offenders and put them, as well as leaders of organized crime, behind bars in record numbers.

But we must do more. I urge permitting use of all reliable evidence that police officers acquire in good faith. These proposals would also reform the habeas corpus laws and allow, in keeping with the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans, the use of the death penalty where necessary.

Source: Pres. Reagan's 1985 State of the Union message to Congress , Feb 6, 1985

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Other past presidents on Crime: Ronald Reagan on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022