Editor's note: Carolyn McCarthy is a U.S congresswoman from New York's 4th District
(CNN) -- Like former White House Press Secretary James Brady, my life has a "before" and an "after." For Jim Brady, who died Monday at 73, the "before" was the time leading up to March 30, 1981, when he was gravely wounded by an assassin aiming for President Ronald Reagan, who was also seriously wounded.
For me, "before" was my life as a nurse, wife, and mother leading up to December 7, 1993, when a mentally disturbed gunman shot and killed my husband, Dennis, and severely wounded my son Kevin during a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad. The "after" for Jim and for me has been a life colored by sadness and loss, but also driven by a cause bigger than both of us: ending violence caused by guns in this country.
Jim Brady did not choose to be a leading advocate to prevent gun violence, but he embraced that role with courage and grace. Jim and his wonderfully steely wife, Sarah, founded the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and went to work to ensure that other individuals and families would not have to endure what they suffered after the 1981 shooting.
Jim and Sarah have been leaders in the anti-gun violence effort for over 30 years and they have always handled their roles in a way that has earned them admirers across this country and around the world. Jim and Sarah have led the discussion on the role guns play in our society.
I first met Jim Brady in late 1993 after the Long Island Railroad shooting. He and Sarah were very kind and provided me with hope for life after my shooting tragedy. Even while recovering from his severe head wound, he moved forward into his own new life of prodding America into addressing gun violence in a commonsense manner.
Jim Brady had a great sense of humor and he used that humor to put people at ease when they met him. He never played the martyr. Jim and I were once discussing my son's recovery from his gunshot wounds and I told Jim that Kevin wanted to go skydiving. I had my doubts, but Jim thought it was a great goal. He said, on behalf of all shooting victims, "We want to show people that we are still the person we were and we do things that people think we can't." On his next birthday, Kevin went skydiving.
James Brady's lasting legacy is, of course, the law that bears his name. The Brady Law, providing for background checks and a waiting period for gun purchases, has been in effect for more than 20 years. It has blocked more than 2 million gun sales to felons, fugitives and those suffering from mental illness.
While the tragedies of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, and unfortunately many others demonstrate that we have more to do toward ending gun violence in America, Jim Brady leaves us with a law that has undoubtedly saved many lives. The Brady law continues to protect Americans, and the life of James Brady will continue to inspire all those faced with challenge and tragedy. My friend, Jim Brady, will be greatly missed.