"Anniversary" is a word we usually associate with happy events that we like to remember: birthdays, weddings, the first job.

March 30, however, marks an anniversary I would just as soon forget, but cannot.It was on that day 10 years ago that a deranged young man standing among reporters and photographers shot a policeman, a Secret Service agent, my press secretary and me on a Washington sidewalk.

I was lucky. The bullet that hit me bounced off a rib and lodged in my lung, an inch from my heart. It was a very close call.

Twice they could not find my pulse. But the bullet's missing my heart, the skill of the doctors and nurses at George Washington University Hospital and the steadfast support of my wife Nancy saved my life.

Jim Brady, my press secretary, who was standing next to me, wasn't as lucky.

A bullet entered the left side of his forehead, near his eye, and passed through the right side of his brain before it exited.

His recovery has been remarkable, but he still lives with physical pain every day and must spend much of his time in a wheelchair.

Thomas Delahanty, a Washington police officer, took a bullet in his neck. It ricocheted off his spinal cord, causing nerve damage to his left arm.

Tim McCarthy, a Secret Service agent, was shot in the chest and suffered a lacerated liver. He recovered and returned to duty.

Still, four lives were changed forever by a Saturday-night special - a cheaply made .22 caliber pistol - purchased in a Dallas pawnshop by a young man with a history of mental disturbance.

This nightmare might never have happened if legislation now before Congress - the Brady bill - had been law in 1981.

Named for Jim Brady, this legislation would establish a national seven-day waiting period before a handgun purchaser could take delivery.

It would allow local law-enforcement officials to do background checks for criminal records or known histories of mental disturbances. Those with such records would be prohibited from buying the handguns.

The Brady bill would require the handgun dealer to provide a copy of the prospective purchaser's sworn statement to local law enforcement authorities so that background checks could be made.

Based upon the evidence in states that already have handgun purchase waiting periods, this bill - on a nationwide scale - can't help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases.

And, since many handguns are acquired in the heat of passion (to settle a quarrel, for example) or at times of depression brought on by potential suicide, the Brady bill would provide a cooling-off period that would certainly have the effect of reducing the number of handgun deaths.

If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 percent or 15 percent of those numbers it would be well worth making it the law of the land.

And there would be a lot fewer families facing anniversaries such as the Bradys, Delahantys, McCarthys and Reagans face every March 30.

(Ronald Reagan, in announcing support for the Brady bill reminded his audience he is a member of the National Rifle Association.)