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National I am in Control Day

The purpose of National I am in Control Day is twofold. On one hand, it is celebrated by people taking control of their own lives. They reassess what they need to do in order to gain full control of their lives, and they then make changes so that they can proclaim, "I am in control." On the other hand, the holiday marks the anniversary of the day when an assassination attempt was made on President Ronald Reagan, on March 30, 1981. On that day, Secretary of State Alexander Haig infamously said, "I am in control," while answering a question in the Press Briefing Room following the shooting.

President Reagan was shot outside of the Washington Hilton Hotel as he was walking to his limousine, by John Hinckley Jr., who wielded a .22 caliber pistol. The bullet hit Reagan's left lung and almost hit his heart. Reagan at first didn't know he was shot, but was rushed to George Washington University, where he walked in on his own. He also joked with doctors and his wife, Nancy, by saying "Please tell me you're Republicans," and "Honey, I forgot to duck." He had surgery, recuperated, and returned to the White House 12 days later.

After the shooting had occurred, when President Reagan was at the hospital, Secretary of State Alexander Haig convened a meeting of the National Security Council in the Situation Room at the White House. There he claimed that the power of the presidency rested in his hands, by saying, "The helm is right here, and that means right in this chair for now, constitutionally, until the vice president gets here."

Soon afterwards, Haig went to the Press Briefing Room, where he attempted to reassure the press and the public that the government was functioning without the president and vice president's presence (Vice President George H.W. Bush was flying back from Texas at the time.) "Who is making the decisions for the government right now?" he was asked. He replied:

Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state in that order, and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. As of now, I am in control, here, in the White House, pending return of the vice president, and am in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.

It was a poor choice of words. He may have been "in control" at the White House, but to some, his words seemed like he was usurping authority. Some also thought he was alluding to presidential succession, and if that was the case, he was not constitutionally correct in saying that the secretary of state followed the vice president. The Speaker of the House and then the president pro tempore of the Senate follow the vice president in the presidential line of succession. Haig later said that he hadn't been talking about who was in line to be president in case President Reagan died but was talking about who was in charge of the executive branch of the government while the president was incapacitated and the vice president had not yet arrived.

Additionally, Haig's full statement was taken out of context by many, who only seemed to remember the words "I am in control" from it. Ironically, the room where Haig gave his statement is now named the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. James Brady, who was Reagan's press secretary, was one of three other people who were hit by Hinckley's bullets on that day. He suffered permanent brain damage and had to leave his position. He went on to become a gun control advocate, and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was named in his honor.

How to Observe National I am in Control Day

The day can be observed by working to take control of your own life or by reflecting on the assassination attempt of President Reagan—and Alexander Haig's Press Briefing Room statement in response to it—or by doing both. To get yourself on the path to taking control of your own life, you could read a book or information online about the subject. To reflect on and learn more about the Reagan assassination attempt and the events surrounding it, you could read Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Del Quentin Wilber, or The President Has Been Shot by Herbert Abrams. Films such as Killing Reagan or The Day Reagan Was Shot could be watched, as could documentaries such as Reagan or Reagan (American Experience). You could also mark the day by visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

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