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Wallace’s assailant getting out of prison

By David Dishneau
Associated Press Writer

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — After 35 years in prison, the man who shot and paralyzed Alabama Gov. George Wallace during his racially charged 1972 presidential campaign is scheduled to be released Friday into a society more diverse and more restrictive on guns.

The state’s automated victim-notification system sent e-mails announcing the impending release of Arthur H. Bremer, 57.

Wallace, a fiery segregationist during the 1960s, was wounded May 15, 1972, during a campaign stop in Laurel, Md. He abandoned his bid for the Democratic nomination, spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair and died in 1998.

Bremer, a former Milwaukee busboy and janitor, was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 53 years. He has been held at the medium-security Maryland Correctional Institution near Hagerstown, about 70 miles from Baltimore, since 1979, earning his mandatory release through good behavior and by working in prison.

Bremer’s diary

Bremer’s diary, found in a landfill in 1980, made it clear he was motivated by a desire for attention, not a political agenda. He had also stalked President Nixon.

A prison system spokesman declined to say where Bremer would go once he got out. The head of the state’s parole commission has said there will be restrictions on Bremer’s activities, including a requirement to avoid political candidates and events.

“My father forgave him and my family has forgiven him. That’s consistent with God’s law,” George Wallace Jr. said in Montgomery But he added: “Then there is man’s law. I doubt the punishment has fit the crime.”

Peggy Wallace Kennedy, the governor’s daughter, said of Bremer: “I think he’s getting out 171/2 years too early.”

The Alabama governor made his famous “stand in the schoolhouse door” in 1963, decrying the enrollment of two black students at the all-white University of Alabama in a standoff against the Justice Department and the National Guard.

By 1972, he had tempered his racist rhetoric and adopted a more subtle approach, denouncing federal courts over the forced busing of children to integrate schools and pledging to restore “law and order,” a phrase sometimes regarded as a coded appeal to white racists.

But Wallace recanted his segregationist stand later in his career and won his final term with the help of black votes. The kind of fiery racial rhetoric he employed is history. And a black man is one of the leading candidates for the presidential nomination in 2008.

Brady Bill

In another measure of how things have changed, the 1993 Brady Bill, named for the White House press secretary wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, requires background checks to prevent felons and mentally ill people from buying guns.

Four months before the attempt on Wallace’s life, Bremer was arrested and underwent a psychiatric evaluation after firing bullets into a ceiling at a shooting range, and was fined for disorderly conduct.

Had the Brady Bill been in place, “it might have been something to stop him from buying a gun,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Helmke said that the law has stopped 1.4 million people from buying guns, but that the national database is missing 90 percent of the mental health records and 20 percent of the felony records because states are not required to supply them.

Bremer was partly the inspiration for the deranged Travis Bickle character in the 1976 film “Taxi Driver.” The movie, in turn, fascinated John Hinckley, who tried to kill Reagan in a twisted attempt to impress the film’s co-star, Jodie Foster.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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