How many presidents have been shot?

Four United States presidents have been shot while in office. Two of them, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, suffered fatal gunshot wounds and died from their injuries. The other two, James Garfield and William McKinley, survived the initial gunshot wound but later died from infections directly related to the shooting.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was the first president to be assassinated. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Booth was a Confederate sympathizer who aimed to revive the Confederate cause. Lincoln was immediately rendered unconscious and died early the next morning at the age of 56.

Key Facts

  • President: Abraham Lincoln
  • Years in Office: 1861-1865
  • Date Shot: April 14, 1865
  • Location: Ford’s Theatre, Washington D.C.
  • Shooter: John Wilkes Booth
  • Weapon Used: .44 caliber single-shot derringer pistol
  • Outcome: Died the following day at 7:22 am on April 15, 1865

Lincoln had led the Union through the Civil War and played a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery. His assassination upended the nation as it continued to recover from the aftermath of the war. Conspiracy theories abounded regarding Booth’s possible accomplices, but he was ultimately found to have acted alone in the plot against Lincoln.

James Garfield

James Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, was shot on July 2, 1881, less than four months into his term as president. He was shot twice from behind by Charles J. Guiteau while at a train station in Washington, D.C. One bullet grazed Garfield’s arm, but the other lodged in his back. Doctors were unable to locate and remove the bullet, leading to a deadly infection. Garfield clung to life for 80 days before succumbing to the infection on September 19, 1881 at the age of 49.

Key Facts

  • President: James Garfield
  • Years in Office: 1881
  • Date Shot: July 2, 1881
  • Location: Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, Washington D.C.
  • Shooter: Charles J. Guiteau
  • Weapon Used: .44 caliber British Bulldog revolver
  • Outcome: Died on September 19, 1881 from infections caused by the gunshot wound

Guiteau was a lawyer and writer who had a paranoid personality and delusions of grandeur. He attacked Garfield in the warped belief that Garfield’s death would allow Vice President Chester A. Arthur to take over and appoint Guiteau to a federal position. Garfield’s assassination cut short a presidency filled with promise and potential reforms.

William McKinley

William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, was shot on September 6, 1901 while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He was shot twice in the abdomen at close range by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist who held a grudge against the government. One bullet was deflected by a button and grazed McKinley’s skin. The other, however, pierced his stomach, colon, and kidney. He survived for eight days before dying of an infection on September 14, 1901 at the age of 58.

Key Facts

  • President: William McKinley
  • Years in Office: 1897-1901
  • Date Shot: September 6, 1901
  • Location: Temple of Music auditorium, Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York
  • Shooter: Leon Czolgosz
  • Weapon Used: .32 caliber Iver Johnson revolver
  • Outcome: Died on September 14, 1901 from infections caused by the gunshot wound

Czolgosz was born in Detroit to Polish immigrants and held anti-government views. He shot McKinley twice in front of a crowd during a public reception. As with Garfield’s assassination, the inability of doctors at the time to successfully locate and remove the bullet led to a fatal infection for McKinley.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated on November 22, 1963 while traveling by motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas. He was shot once in the upper back with the bullet exiting through his throat. A second shot struck him in the head, fatally wounding him. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with Kennedy’s murder but was himself shot and killed two days later by Jack Ruby before he could be brought to trial.

Key Facts

  • President: John F. Kennedy
  • Years in Office: 1961-1963
  • Date Shot: November 22, 1963
  • Location: Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas
  • Shooter: Lee Harvey Oswald
  • Weapon Used: 6.5x52mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle
  • Outcome: Died 30 minutes after being shot around 1 pm on November 22, 1963

Oswald was a former U.S. Marine who had briefly defected to the Soviet Union before returning to the U.S. Kennedy was struck by two of the three shots Oswald fired from a nearby warehouse as the presidential motorcade passed by. The assassination rattled the nation and raised many lingering questions and conspiracy theories still debated today.

Survival Rate and Trends

Out of the four sitting presidents who were shot, only one – Ronald Reagan – survived the attempt on his life. This equates to a 25% survival rate for presidents who are shot while in office.

President Shot Survived?
Abraham Lincoln April 1865 No
James Garfield July 1881 No
William McKinley September 1901 No
John F. Kennedy November 1963 No
Ronald Reagan March 1981 Yes

Three of the four presidents shot in the 1800s – Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley – died of their wounds. However, the only president shot in the 1900s – Kennedy – also died, showing no clear improvement in survival rate over time despite medical advancements. Reagan’s survival in 1981 finally broke this pattern.

All four fatal presidential shootings happened in the span of just 36 years between 1865 to 1901. Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 was followed by the attacks on Garfield in 1881 and McKinley in 1901. This volatility reflected the chaos and tensions of the Civil War era and subsequent industrialization in the late 19th century. After McKinley’s death, the Secret Service took on permanent responsibility for protecting the president in 1902.

Prior to Reagan in 1981, the Secret Service’s protections appeared to deter any further attempts on the president’s life through most of the 20th century. Future medical advancements and refined trauma treatment greatly improved Reagan’s chances of survival compared to presidents struck by bullets decades earlier.

Attempted Assassinations

In addition to the four sitting presidents who were shot, there have been numerous failed assassination attempts against presidents either before, during, or after their time in office. Some of the most notable include:

  • Andrew Jackson – Survived an assassination attempt in 1835 by Richard Lawrence, whose two pistols misfired. The odds of both pistols failing were estimated at 1 in 125,000.
  • Theodore Roosevelt – While campaigning in 1912 after leaving office, Roosevelt was shot in the chest by John Flammang Schrank. A spectacles case and folded speech in his breast pocket helped save Roosevelt’s life.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt – Survived an assassination attempt in 1933 before he was sworn in. The attack by Giuseppe Zangara killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak instead.
  • Harry S. Truman – Two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to shoot their way into Blair House to assassinate Truman in 1950. The would-be assassins were killed in a gunfight with police.
  • Richard Nixon – Samuel Byck plotted to kill Nixon in 1974 by hijacking a plane and crashing it into the White House. He was killed during the attempted hijacking.
  • Gerald Ford – Two separate assassination attempts against Ford by women occurred in September 1975 in California. Both attempts were deflected and failed.
  • Ronald Reagan – Survived another assassination attempt just 69 days into his presidency in 1981 by John Hinckley Jr.
  • George W. Bush – Had a grenade thrown at him during a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2005. It failed to detonate.
  • Barack Obama – More than 10 serious assassination plots against Obama were uncovered during his presidency.

This history shows that at least nine other presidents had assassination attempts against them either before, during, or after their presidency. This underscores the perpetual threat of attacks that presidents face, as well as the key role of the Secret Service in detecting and preventing plots against the president’s life.


The assassination of four U.S. presidents stands as a stark reminder of the ever-present danger inherent to the position. Two were claimed by an assassin’s bullet within the span of just 16 years in the late 19th century, and no president’s time in office during that volatile era was secure. Medical limitations of the time doomed Garfield and McKinley once shots pierced them. The nation and the office itself were shaken and transformed by Lincoln’s murder at the tail end of the Civil War. And Kennedy’s assassination rattled the country anew during the anxieties of the Cold War.

But reactive measures after these attacks likely prevented further presidential assassinations in the 20th century. Only Reagan came close to joining Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy when he survived a shooter’s bullet thanks to modern surgical care unavailable in prior eras. Just four sitting presidents shot represents a small fraction of the total who served. Yet the impact of those four attacks has helped shaped the institution of the presidency itself along with the country at large.

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