"Einstein's Definition of Insanity": Father of Slain Reporter on GOP Candidates' Gun Control Remarks

October 07, 2015


Andy Parker

father of Alison Parker, the news reporter from WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, VA. She, along with WDBJ cameraman Adam Ward, was gunned down while conducting a live interview. Since Alison’s death, Andy has made gun safety and smarter gun legislation his mission.

Arkadi Gerney

senior vice president at the Center for American Progress. He previously worked as special adviser and first deputy criminal justice coordinator to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He managed Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national coalition that former Mayor Bloomberg co-chairs.

As the United States experiences more than one mass shooting per day, the issue of gun regulation is emerging as a hot topic on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. As Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has vowed to curb gun violence, Republican presidential candidates have refused calls for gun control in the wake of last week’s massacre at Umpqua Community College. Donald Trump told NBC’s Meet the Press that mass shooters are "geniuses in a certain way. They are going to be able to break the system." John Kasich told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, "I don’t think gun control would solve this problem. The deeper issue is alienation. The deeper issue is loneliness." Ben Carson implied that the Oregon shooting victims didn’t do enough to save themselves, saying, "I would not just stand there and let him shoot me." And Jeb Bush seemed to shrug off last week’s mass shooting, saying on Friday afternoon, "stuff happens." We’re joined by Andy Parker, the father of 24-year-old broadcast journalist Alison Parker, who was shot dead on live television in August, and by Arkadi Gerney, senior vice president at the Center for American Progress who formerly worked with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the national coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The issue of gun regulation is emerging as a hot topic in the presidential—on the presidential campaign trail. On Monday, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton vowed to curb gun violence.

HILLARY CLINTON: It’s the leading cause of death for young African-American men, the second leading cause for young Hispanic men, the fourth leading cause for young white men. This epidemic of gun violence knows no boundaries, knows no limits of any kind. And when this happens, people are quick to say that they offer their thoughts and prayers. That’s not enough. How many people have to die before we actually act, before we come together as a nation? I mean, ideally, what I would love to see is gun owners, responsible gun owners, hunters, form a different organization and take back the Second Amendment from these extremists.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates have avoided any discussion of gun control in the wake of last week’s massacre at Umpqua Community College. Donald Trump told NBC’s Meet the Press that mass shooters are, quote, "geniuses in a certain way. They are going to be able to break the system." Meanwhile, John Kasich told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, quote, "I don’t think gun control would solve this problem. The deeper issue is alienation. The deeper issue is loneliness." And Ben Carson implied that the Oregon shooting victims didn’t do enough to save themselves, and suggested he would have been more aggressive in confronting the attacker. And Jeb Bush seemed to shrug off last week’s mass shooting, saying on Friday afternoon, quote, "stuff happens."

JEB BUSH: We’re in a difficult time in our country, and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this. I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It’s just—it’s very sad to see. But I resist the notion, and I did—I had this challenge as governor, because we had—look, stuff happens. There’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Fellow Republican presidential contender Donald Trump also argued against gun control in the wake of the Oregon shooting, saying the shooting highlights the need to address mental illness issues. And again, this was Ben Carson in his own words on Fox.

BEN CARSON: Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, "Hey, guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all."

AMY GOODMAN: Still with us from Collinsville, Virginia, is Andy Parker, whose daughter, the journalist Alison Parker, was shot dead on the air in August along with her cameraman, Adam Ward.

Your response to what Ben Carson said, to what Donald Trump has said, to what Hillary Clinton has said, and what you understand Bernie Sanders thinks?

ANDY PARKER: Well, you know, let’s start with Ben Carson. You know, that’s so easy for him to say that. I guarantee you he would be running like the coward that he is. I mean, to make a comment like that—"I would do this, and I would do that"—it’s an affront, and it is an insult. The other Republican candidates, I’ll move—you know, the second one is Jeb Bush, who shrugged it off, as you said, and said, "stuff happens." I mean, really? The whole Republican ticket, each one of these candidates, their reaction is, "Well, let’s do nothing," which is, of course, Einstein’s definition of insanity, which is what we have now.

Certainly mental health is the issue here, but there’s got to be a way—and there is a way—to wrap these things together. I mean, we can relax some of the HIPAA laws, some of the FERPA laws, so that mental health professionals can talk to law enforcement and say, "Look, this guy is a ticking time bomb," employers that can say, "Look, don’t hire this guy, because he was escorted out the door by police," which is the case with Alison’s shooter. So, there are issues there that it’s like cancer. You don’t treat cancer with one therapy. But the easiest—you go the path of least resistance first, and that is universal background checks, closing the gun loopholes. And then you address these other mental health issues and employment issues. But to sit there and say, "Oh, you know, to suggest that we do anything, nothing is going to work," that just doesn’t fly anymore.

I am so glad that Secretary Clinton stood up and has taken the lead on this. I just hope that she doesn’t backtrack. Bernie Sanders has had a very dubious record in terms of his votes on gun control, so I’m not sure where he stands now. But I know Ms. Clinton is the one that is at least standing up and making herself a clear—she’s made a clear choice for voters in the upcoming election between her and the other Republicans who are—they deny this thing. And they’re—again, guess what. They’re getting money from the NRA. They have blood on their hands.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanders cited several measures he can support, including a strengthened system of instant background checks, closure of the gun show loophole, a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, quote, "designed strictly for killing human beings," and far greater investments in mental health. Apparently, he says he will be releasing a more comprehensive package that could join people across different opinions. Andy Parker?

ANDY PARKER: Well, I look forward to seeing that from him, because, again, he protected a lot of the gun manufacturers with his votes several years ago that were very, very dubious. So, I’m glad to hear that he’s perhaps coming around on this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your sense, Andy Parker, of Martin O’Malley also, who used to be in your neighboring state of Maryland, his positions? He has called for stricter background checks and tougher laws, as well. Your sense of his track record?

ANDY PARKER: You know, I honestly don’t know enough about Governor O’Malley to comment on that, but I think, generally speaking, this is—while the issue is—it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The reality is, is that 90 percent of Republicans don’t support any kind of gun legislation, and, just the reverse, 90 percent of the Democrats do. I know Peter King, John McCain, you know, they support commonsense gun legislation.

And let me also make something clear, that this is an argument that the gun lobby, whenever you try and advance or suggest any kind of reasonable, commonsense legislation, their immediate knee-jerk reaction is: "They’re coming to take away our guns. It’s an assault on the Second Amendment." You know, the Second Amendment, Chief Justice Warren Burger suggested 30 years ago that—and I think most people realize that—the intent was not to arm every man, woman and child. It was for militias. It was to keep—you know, that was back when they were using muskets, and they were used to make sure that if the British invaded again, that there were militias there to help defend the country. That was its intent. And that’s what these guys, every time you say—suggest meaningful solutions to end gun violence, "Oh, you’re coming to take away our guns. This is an assault on the Second Amendment."


ANDY PARKER: And that’s—it’s a false narrative.

AMY GOODMAN: Andy Parker, we’re also joined by Arkadi Gerney, who is senior vice president of the Center for American Progress. He previously worked as special adviser and first deputy criminal justice coordinator to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and managed Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national coalition that Mayor Bloomberg co-chairs. Arkadi Gerney, talk about what you think most needs to happen right now. The conversation on television mainly these days is, you’re talking about mentally ill people or criminals, they’re going to get around the laws, so whatever regulations you put in place, law-abiding people will abide by them, and they won’t be armed, and then the criminals and the mentally ill will be armed, and they’ll just gun them down.

ARKADI GERNEY: Well, thanks, Amy. First, I just want to offer my condolences to Andy Parker. He has just shown incredible courage in making his voice heard under, of course, extremely difficult circumstances. So thank you for that.

But, you know, I think, as to the question, if you look at the United States and compare it to other countries, we have normal levels of crime, violent crime, compared to other advanced countries. We have mental health disorders at normal rates compared to other advanced countries. But we have levels of murder and gun murders that are way out of line with other highly developed countries. If you look within the United States, you see that the states with the strongest gun laws have lower rates of gun homicides and gun suicides, significantly lower rates, than the states with the weakest gun laws. And study after study has shown that. So, the idea that there is nothing that we can do about it is just false.

And if you look at other challenges that we’ve faced in our country, for example, car accidents, we’ve been able to make cars in the last 60 years five times safer. For every mile that a person drives in the United States today, they are five times less likely to die than they would have been 55 or 60 years ago. And that wasn’t one intervention, it was a whole bunch of measures, from seat belts to airbags to drunk driving laws to culture change to better road signage. But we found a way to both preserve our car culture, but make it much, much safer. And that’s what we need to do with guns.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Arkadi Gerney, you’ve talked about that it’s not just the mass shootings that occur—obviously, they get all the attention in the media—but it’s the day-in, day-out gun violence that occurs in America and that rarely gets much coverage at all outside the local area in which it happens. Could you talk about that?

ARKADI GERNEY: Yes. I mean, I think what—you know, happened to Alison Parker was absolutely terrible, but had it not been broadcast on TV, two people getting killed is not national news in the United States, and it happens every day. In fact, 33 people are murdered with guns every single day in the United States. That’s a Virginia Tech-scale mass shooting. Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 was the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history, but it’s happening across the country every single day. It’s very hard for our politicians and for the national media to pay attention to it, to bring life to these stories. And we tend to only pay attention to these spectacular shootings, these mass shootings, that are, of course, really awful, but underlying that is the everyday gun violence, which is just taking an incredible toll—adds up to 11,000 or 12,000 gun murders a year, and another 20,000, 21,000 gun suicides and accidents. Put it all together, that’s 33,000 Americans every year we are losing to gun violence. It’s just an incredible number. And the idea that we can’t do something about it is wrong. All the evidence suggests that we can do something about it. And we’re not going to get that number to zero, but if we can reduce it by 1 percent, that’s saving 330 lives. If we can reduce it by 10 percent, that’s saving 3,300 lives a year. That’s as many people as died on 9/11.

AMY GOODMAN: Arkadi Gerney, you have your own story about why you are interested, so interested, in this issue.

ARKADI GERNEY: Well, yeah. I mean, my father died when I was young. My mother was planning to get remarried, and the person she was going to get remarried to was shot, murdered in a random act of violence. And, you know, I think that the remarkable thing in the U.S. is that it is just simply not uncommon for Americans to know someone who has been shot and killed. It happens so frequently that so many people are touched by it. The toll of gun violence disproportionately affects some parts of our country, some demographics within the country. It is a—disproportionately impacts young people. It disproportionately impacts communities of color. But if you look at it all, it affects all kinds of people—young, old, black, white. And there’s something we can do about it. And, you know, I think we want to try to spare more people from the experience that Andy Parker is going through, and so many people have gone through, of seeing a loved one lost to this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about the grassroots movement that you became a part of with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, when the mayors of cities across the country, faced with the failure of Congress to act, began banding together to try to do something about gun violence?

ARKADI GERNEY: Well, I think the politics of guns is in the process of changing, and the movement for stronger gun laws is growing much, much stronger and has been growing stronger over several years. But when I started working on this issue in 2006, there was barely any support, even among Democrats in Washington, to do anything. And, you know, really among elected officials, the only stakeholders who were ready to sort of put their political capital and themselves on the line tended to be mayors, because mayors are held accountable for crime. They saw what it was doing to their cities. And so, Mayor Bloomberg and Tom Menino, the mayor of Boston, built this coalition. It’s grown to more than a thousand mayors. But what we see is that now the movement for stronger gun laws is very diverse. It’s mayors, it’s moms, it’s all kinds of people coming out of the woodwork. And we are seeing, at the state level, progress in many states, not just blue states, but purple states like Colorado, which strengthened its gun laws after Newtown. We’ve seen ballot initiatives, like in Washington state last year, where 60 percent of voters voted for universal background checks.

AMY GOODMAN: Arkadi Gerney, we’re going to lose Andy Parker, the satellite to him at his home in Collinsville, Virginia, in just a second. I wanted to ask, are you thinking of running for public office? I think of Carolyn McCarthy in Long Island whose husband was killed in the Long Island Rail Road massacre many years ago. She went to her congressman. He said he’s not for gun control. And she said, "Then I’m going to replace you," and she did. Are you thinking about this? Andy Parker?

ANDY PARKER: Are you asking me? I’m sorry.


ANDY PARKER: Oh, oh, oh, yeah, am I—I’m sorry. Am I thinking about running?


ANDY PARKER: Or—no, I am not. I feel like that I’m better served as an advocate and an activist. You never say never, but that’s—I feel like my role at this point is to find the people to replace these people that are not going to come to our way of thinking on this issue. So, that’s—you know, I’ve got no plans at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll continue the conversation. I want to thank you. And again, our condolences. Andy Parker, the father of Alison Parker, who, along with her cameraman, Adam Ward, were gunned down as they were broadcasting live on television at her television station, WDBJ. They were outside interviewing the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when they were killed. Arkadi Gerney, senior vice president at the Center for American Progress, thank you, as well. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

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