A fear of unpredictable mass shootings is eroding the strength of American democracy and making it vulnerable to would-be dictators, according to Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan.

Davis expressed her concern in an opinion essay in the July 6 edition of The New York Times.

Davis recalled that the 1981 attempted assassination of her father had occurred "long before semiautomatic weapons became commonplace." The attacker, John Hinckley, had shot Reagan and three others with a revolver, she noted.

The shooting had left her with a dread of guns, Davis said.

Lately that fear had grown to include "assassins in tactical gear with AR-15-style rifles" turning up anywhere and "mowing down scores of people in minutes," she said.

Other Americans shared her dread and the United States was becoming "a country gripped by fear," she observed. Every failed democracy had fallen apart in "an atmosphere of fear." Davis said, "Fear is a breeding ground for autocracy."

'A healthy fear of guns'

Davis recalled being raised by her father to have "a healthy fear of guns." While watching gunfights in television Westerns, Reagan had often told her that the effects of real gunshots were far more gruesome and deadly than gunshot wounds depicted by Hollywood, she said.

After receiving a permit in 1947, Reagan had worn a concealed weapon in a shoulder holster, Davis said. Carrying a gun had not actually eased his fear of a possible attack, she said.

Reagan supported some gun control

Davis recalled that her father had continued to oppose strengthened gun control legislation for ten years after the assassination attempt.

She referred to a 1991 op-ed in The New York Times written by Reagan in support of the Brady Bill, named after James Brady, Reagan's press secretary and a victim of Hinkley's attack.

Reagan wrote, that the Brady Bill, which established a 7-day waiting period for gun purchases, might have prevented the assassination attempt if it had been law in 1981.

He noted that California had a 15-day waiting period "that I supported and signed into law while Governor."

In her opinion essay, Davis referred to this year's shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas but she did not mention the July 4 shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. Seven people were killed in the shooting at Highland Park, according to Fox 32 Chicago.

Kamala Harris in Highland Park

Speaking to the community of Highland Park on July 5, Vice President Kamala Harris said: "We’ve got to be smarter as a country in terms of who has access to what and, in particular, assault weapons."

She added: "The whole nation should understand and have a level of empathy to understand that this can happen anywhere, in any peace-loving community. And we should stand together and speak out about why it’s got to stop." Her remarks can be read in their entirety at the White House website.