By Andy Parker
Parker, of Henry County, is the father of the late WDBJ-TV journalist Alison Parker.
Last Wednesday, my daughter Alison was brutally struck down in the prime of her life by a deranged gunman. Since that time I have stated in numerous interviews I have done with local, national and international media that I plan to make my life’s work trying to implement effective and reasonable safeguards against this happening again.
In recent years we have all witnessed similar tragedies unfold on TV – the shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona, the massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut and churchgoers in South Carolina. We have to ask ourselves: “What do we need to do to stop this insanity?”
In my case, the answer is, “Whatever it takes.”
I plan to devote all of my strength and resources to seeing that some good comes from this evil. I am entering this arena with open eyes. I realize the magnitude of the force that opposes any sensible and reasonable safeguards on the purchase of devices that have a single purpose: To kill.
That means we must focus our attention on the legislators who are responsible for America’s criminally weak gun laws – laws that facilitate the access dangerous individuals have to firearms on a daily basis.
Legislators like Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke County), who represents Roanoke, where this atrocity took place on live television. He’s in the House of Representatives and serves as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Congressman Goodlatte has had more than two years to bring up universal background check legislation and other gun violence prevention bills in his committee. He has refused to lead on this issue, and has done absolutely nothing to help contain the carnage we are seeing. On the other hand, Congressman Goodlatte had no problem cashing his check from the NRA during the 2014 election cycle. Shame on him.
But the issue of controlling gun violence is also being hampered by our elected officials on the state level. For example, Virginia state Senators John Edwards (D-Roanoke), who represents Roanoke where Alison and Adam lived, and Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County), who represents the district where Wednesday’s shooting took place. Senator Edwards’ district also contains the Virginia Tech campus, so he is fully aware of how easy it is for dangerously mentally ill individuals to acquire guns in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Yet he has been a constant opponent of sensible gun reforms like expanded background checks during his 15+ years in the Virginia Senate, breaking ranks constantly with his colleagues in Virginia’s Democratic Party.
In 2015, Senators Edwards and Stanley had the opportunity to cast a vote for SB 1429, a bill sponsored by Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax County) that would have instituted a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) policy in Virginia. The GVRO is a life-saving reform that allows family members and/or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a loved one in crisis. The policy was first enacted in California following the tragic 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista. The parents of the gunman in that case, Elliot Rodger, had requested a welfare check on their son because they believed he was a potential threat. Law enforcement officers did the check, but had no authority to remove Rodger’s firearms from his home. The results were disastrous. Lives were taken for no good reason at all – certainly no reason our founders would have supported.
To California legislators’ credit, they wasted no time in taking decisive action to prevent the next tragedy. Yet when Senators Edwards and Stanley had a game-changing opportunity to vote on a similar GVRO policy in Virginia, they elected to serve their gun lobby masters and voted “no.” Shame on them.
Of course we have no way of knowing whether a bill like this would have made a difference in Alison and Adam’s case. We don’t know if the family was aware of a problem. Nor do we know whether removing firearms would have just prompted him to use something else.
The weekend before she died, Alison was rafting on the Nantahala River in North Carolina with her mother, her boyfriend Chris, her close friend Katy and me. It was her favorite place on earth. She was a brilliant kayaker and it was a family tradition she relished. We told each other often of the mantra all paddlers must keep in mind while fighting the force of the rapid water:
“Never stop paddling. You just have to paddle through the rapids. You just have to paddle through.”
Whatever it takes.