I didn’t know Alison Parker or Adam Ward, and it’s been over three years since I was truly a part of ‘the business,’ as journalists lovingly refer to it, but the shooting today in Virginia still hits pretty close to home.
My time as an intern at a small market CBS affiliate, an anchor and reporter at a small market NBC affiliate, and a part-timer at a few radio stations and websites beforehand benefited me in more ways than I could ever count, but the most significant gift I received from those jobs was a second family. We were underpaid together, we worked long hours together, we went to the bar and drank together. We did everything possible to help each other. And it didn’t matter what newsroom you worked out of, if you had a competing newspaper’s press pass or the ABC affiliate’s flag on your mic. If you were a reporter or a photog, you were part of our strange family because nobody else could relate to what we went through in our peculiar profession.
When I saw that terrible video this morning of Parker and Ward being gunned down during a live shot, the same live shot I’ve seen on newscasts a million times before, I saw members of my family. I thought of Molly and Courtney and Hunty and Bre and Kellee and Ashley and Paul and Rock and Brownie and Jill and Melissa and a host of others. And it scared the hell out of me because I knew any one of them could’ve been in that same position. Just doing their jobs.
I can’t even begin to fathom what they must be going through today in the WDBJ newsroom and the entire Roanoke market.
Inevitably this will bring up another chapter in the long-running debate over guns in the United States, which I cynically know will end the same way as all the other chapters, with another shooting.
The thing is, I get both sides. Sure, back home in South Dakota, you never would’ve seen me in a tree stand at the crack of dawn, but I understand the sense of pride a number of my friends have about their firearms. I can still close my eyes and see the pictures at DJ’s Express of the biggest bucks brought home during deer season and hear my buddies Halvy and Sorlie talking about how they can’t wait to get back out there. It’s a badge of respect to wield the power of a gun. It makes people feel safe. It makes people feel cool. There are a number of understandable reasons to own a gun, reasons I’ll never be able to make a lot of my New Yorker friends understand no matter how hard I’ve tried.
On the other hand, I have to walk through Times Square on my way to work every morning. It’s illegal to carry guns in New York City, but I still find myself wondering at least a few times a week, “How long will it be till some psycho drives up from Alabama and makes this into another spot where we have to put up another memorial?” I hear some of the flat-out insane arguments the NRA gives to even the slightest proposals for gun control. Insinuating that any ‘good guy with a gun’ is apparently trained to stop a shooting from going down. But just a few years ago I rode on the subway underneath the site of an active shooter situation where the NYPD, actually trained to stop a dangerous criminal and considered by some to be the most excellent police force in the world, shot nine innocent bystanders while trying to take out one guy.
It’s silly to me we can’t even talk about coming up with something better than the system we have now, but I guess I can understand that too. When people back home in the Midwest think about gun control, they don’t think about stopping the next murder, or even the next mass shooting. They think about a guy they’ve never met before sitting in an office 1500 miles away deciding what’s best for them, and having the audacity to determine taking their guns away is what’s best for them. Most people, even in the reddest of red states, realize it wouldn’t come to that, but why take the chance of starting a slippery slope?
Still, I can’t help but find hypocrisy in this line of thinking.
In his brief, but memorable, lessons to me about guns when I was growing up, my dad always hammered one point home: respect the power of the weapon. He never took me hunting or anything (we had a lot more fun bonding over how much the Vikings sucked, usually with me gloating and him being miserable), but he made sure I understood how dangerous firearms can be and how careful you need to be around them. He taught me gun responsibility.
So think about this. Picture the stupidest, most short-tempered, irrational human being you know. Now, remember the fact that it’s probably easier for them to buy a gun right now than it is for them to buy a car.
Wouldn’t you prefer being inconvenienced by a background check or a test of some kind if it meant keeping a gun out of that person’s hands?
If you don’t think so, how responsible of a gun owner are you being?