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Father of Journalist Shot Dead On-Air in Virginia Speaks Out to End U.S. Gun Violence Epidemic

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On August 26 in Roanoke, Virginia, two journalists were fatally shot on live television during a morning broadcast of the local news station WDBJ. Twenty-four-year-old broadcast journalist Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward died after Vester Flanagan approached the set and began shooting. Flanagan was a former journalist at the station who had been fired two years ago. Flanagan later shot himself. It was the 246th mass shooting in the United States this year. Just over a month later, a gunman named Chris Harper-Mercer opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, killing nine people before taking his own life. Later that same day in northern Florida, a gunman killed two people and injured another before taking his own life. Then on Friday, one person died and four others were injured in a shooting in Baltimore—bringing the year’s total of mass shootings to at least 296. We speak with Andy Parker, the father of Alison Parker. Since her death in August, Parker has called for the passage of stronger gun laws. He says he’ll dedicate his life to this fight.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On August 26th in Roanoke, Virginia, two journalists were fatally shot on live television during a morning broadcast of the local news station WDBJ. Twenty-four-year-old broadcast journalist Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward died after Vester Flanagan approached the set and began shooting. Flanagan was a former journalist at the station who had been fired two years earlier. Flanagan later shot himself. It was the 246th mass shooting in the United States this year. Just over a month later, a gunman named Chris Harper-Mercer opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. He shot nine people dead before taking his own life. That was the 294th mass shooting of 2015.

AMY GOODMAN: In a blog post written before the shooting, the Oregon gunman, Chris Harper-Mercer, wrote about Vester Flanagan, the Roanoke shooter. He wrote, quote, “I have noticed that so many people like [Flanagan] are alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight,” he wrote. Speaking after the shooting in Oregon, President Obama addressed the nation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this. We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Two more mass shootings have been reported since the one on Thursday in Oregon. Later that same day in northern Florida, a gunman killed two people and injured another before taking his own life. Then on Friday, one person died and four others were injured in a shooting in Baltimore, bringing the year’s total of mass shootings to at least 296.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend much of the hour looking at the country’s gun violence epidemic. We begin with Andy Parker, the father of Alison Parker, the journalist shot dead in August while on the air in Roanoke, Virginia. Since her death, her dad, Andy Parker, has vowed to do whatever it takes to end gun violence. He’s joining us from his home in Collinsville, Virginia.

Andy Parker, welcome to Democracy Now! Of course, our condolences on the death of your daughter. Can you talk about—

ANDY PARKER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Alison today?

ANDY PARKER: Oh, of course. I can talk about Alison any day. She was—what people saw on television was who she was. She was bubbly, she was bright, she would light up a room. She made everyone feel comfortable. And she was accomplished at just about—well, not just about, everything she did, everything she picked up, she was terrific at it. And she packed in probably more of a life in 24 years than most people do in a lifetime. She was—I call her a force of nature, and she really was. And she—I think she’s become an iconic figure in this struggle that we are undertaking.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And that day that you heard the news of the shooting?

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you, Andy Parker?

ANDY PARKER: Well, we were—you know, Alison would normally go on way before we—her hits were on from 5:00 to 7:00 in the morning. And typically we would catch up with what she did online. So we really—we didn’t see anything live that day. And we’ve not seen it. We won’t see it. But we were alerted by her boyfriend, Chris, who called and said there had been shots fired at her location. And that’s where we were. And I knew something was terribly wrong, because I spoke to Alison every single day, every day, and I knew that when she didn’t call or—because the first thing she would have done is to call dad or mom and say, “Look, I’m OK, everything’s OK,” and when I didn’t hear, I knew something was terribly wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: And Chris is the anchor on WDBJ?

ANDY PARKER: Right, right. And Chris was the love of her life, and she, the love of his. And, you know, he’s been going through some tough times, as have we. But we learned, I guess about an hour later, that she had been—she and Adam had been killed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about why, so soon after her death, you have decided to be so outspoken on the issue of gun violence, the process that you went through to make that decision?

ANDY PARKER: Well, you know, I guess people grieve differently. And we felt like, obviously, this was a kick in the stomach. And listen, I cry every day. My wife cries every day. But rather than sit here and go into a shell, we felt like we have to do something and channel our grief into a way that perhaps we can make a change and make a difference, because this is what Alison would have wanted us to do. And we realized—I realized that day. The governor, Terry McAuliffe, called me probably four hours after this happened, and at that point I had made up my mind that I was going to do whatever it takes to try and stop this. And he said, “Andy,” he said, “I got your back.” He said, “You go for it. I’m right there with you.”

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Governor McAuliffe of Virginia. So, what are you doing? Can you talk about who you are taking on? What lobbies, what congressmembers? You’re naming names.

ANDY PARKER: Absolutely. You know, the people that are—well, one, in particular, Bob Goodlatte, who is the—he is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, that’s got over a hundred bills related to gun legislation that have been sitting on his desk. He’s the gatekeeper and will not hold hearings on this. He, ironically, is the congressman where—that covers the area where Alison lived. And I’ve met with this guy. And, you know, his comment to me and Chris—Chris and I both met with him, and his comment to me was: “Well, we really need to enforce the laws that we have on the books,” which—and I said, “Really, Congressman? So the laws on the books are working?” And he said, “Oh, well, you know, we have all these laws on the books, and we can’t prosecute.” And yet, the irony of it is—and he has an ATF, a former ATF agent on his staff. The irony is that he’s cut back—he and his colleagues have helped cut back funding for the ATF. They have the same staff that they had 40 years ago. They have less enforcement officers than the D.C. police do. And he’s telling me that we need to enforce these laws, and meanwhile he cuts funding for the ATF. It’s hypocrisy. It’s duplicity. And frankly, he has blood on his hands. He takes money from the NRA.

It’s the same with Mike McCaul, who is supposed to be protecting us as the House chairman for homeland security. And I watched him last week right after the Oregon shootings. I was on CNN doing an interview, and I watched him after mine. And the news correspondent that was interviewing him was trying to pin him down on “What can you do? Do you want to close these loopholes? Is there something that you would do?” And he tap-danced around the issue. Their whole fallback is: “It’s mental health. It’s not a gun problem. It’s a mental health problem.” Well, sure, it’s a mental health problem, but, you know, here’s—we can do things in this country. We can close gun loopholes. We can do universal background checks. Is it going to be a cure-all? Of course not. But you have to start and do something. And I said in my next interview after that, listening to this guy, he made me want to throw up. I mean, here’s a guy that Homeland Security, the FBI has a thousand people on its no-fly list, and McCaul and Goodlatte help the NRA block efforts to keep these people from getting firearms. Now, you know, go figure. They can’t fly, but they can get a weapon. I mean, it’s insane. It is hypocrisy. And like I said, these guys are gutless cowards that have blood on their hands.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Andy Parker, you mentioned the NRA several times. The ability of the NRA and the gunman manufacturers who back them to basically subvert the will of the majority of the American people who do support tougher gun controls, why do you think—

ANDY PARKER: Of course.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —they’ve been able to be so successful?

ANDY PARKER: You know, they’ve done—you got to give the devil his due, and I say that literally and figuratively, but mostly literally. They have had a 30-year jump on folks like Everytown, which I have joined. It’s a recently new organization that Mayor Bloomberg has started. But the NRA, through the gun lobby—and, you know, by the way, the NRA only has a few members. I don’t even think they have 100,000 members in this country. But where they get the millions and millions of dollars that they funnel into these campaigns comes from the gun manufacturers. And every time one of the shootings happens, their gun sales go through the roof. So they love this stuff. And so they’re going to continue to fund, through the NRA—NRA is really nothing more than a lobby. Wayne LaPierre makes a million bucks, and he is nothing more than a lobbyist that funds money to members of Congress. And they intimidate them, and they’re just afraid to lose the money. But guys like Terry McAuliffe ran against the NRA in a red state, got an F rating from the NRA, and won as governor, so it can be done. But the people that are in the pockets of the NRA and the gun lobby, they do have blood on their hands, and they are cowards.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your reaction to another father, to the father of the Oregon gunman who killed the nine people last week at Umpqua Community College, who has also criticized U.S. gun policies, which he says allows his son to amass an arsenal of weapons. Ian Mercer, father of Chris Harper-Mercer, made the comments in an interview with CNN.

IAN MERCER: The question that I would like to ask is: How on Earth could he compile 13 guns? How can that happen? You know, they talk about gun laws, they talk about gun control. Every time something like this happens, they talk about it, and nothing is done. I’m not trying to say that that’s to blame for what happened, but if Chris had not been able to get a hold of 13 guns, it wouldn’t have happened.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ian Mercer, the father of Chris Harper-Mercer. Andy Parker, if you could respond to that and also the fact that Chris Harper-Mercer had cited the man who killed your daughter, Alison, as an example that he was a nobody who then was on the lips of the world because of the people he killed?

ANDY PARKER: Well, Amy, you know, part of the problem is we have a lot of bad parenting out there. And unfortunately, you can’t legislate bad parenting. You can’t do anything about it. But you can do things like universal background checks and closing gun loopholes to at least help prevent these things, to mitigate some of this bad parenting. I want to know—you know, certainly, he gets it, but—and from what I understand, he and his son—he never saw his son much. They didn’t—they lived apart.

But I want to know what his mother was doing, and as we read these revelations that she was—you know, she had an arsenal herself and was clearly involved in this young man’s life. Frankly, she should be an accessory to murder. I mean, that—I listened—I read that account of her having all the weapons and bragging about it. She had to know something was up. I mean, listen, my son has Asperger’s, and he’s scared to death of—you know, most kids that have Asperger’s are—you know, they’re quiet, they’re shy kids. They’re usually bullied, which my son was, and they just shy away from these kind of things. But we also were involved in his life and made sure that he became a good citizen. Obviously, this woman, this mother, was worthless. And as I say, somebody should charge her as being an accessory to murder.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I was wondering also your reaction to the obvious frustration that President Obama has been showing in his recent statements about some of the recent mass shootings.

ANDY PARKER: Well, I’m glad that he’s finally addressed it in the way he did. I think he must have been listening to some of the earlier interviews that I’ve done, because it sounds like he took it right from my playbook. And that is, we don’t have the world’s market cornered on mental illness, but somehow we have the world’s market cornered on mental illness and people that are mentally ill and other criminals that can evade background checks and can have access to weapons. And this has just got to stop. And I think that as long as he keeps this up, I think that between the president using the bully pulpit to not let this go away, I think that the press, because Alison was one of you guys—I mean, she was a member of the fraternity, and the press has been so kind and so generous with their time with this effort. They understand that, look, it could have been one of you guys. It could have been this cameraman that’s here with me today. It could be—it could have been one of you. And so, I think that—I think it’s different this time. I really do. And I think we’re going to—we’re putting a dent in it. And I think these congressmen that we’re calling out, that I’m calling out, it’s having an effect.

AMY GOODMAN: Andy Parker, we’re going to ask you to stay with us. We’re going to go to a break, then come back to you in Collinsville, Virginia, where you live. We’ll also be joined by a gun control expert, a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress. And I want to ask you about some of the comments of the presidential candidates and what they mean to you. We’re talking to Andy Parker. He is the father of Alison Parker, who was killed on air in Roanoke, Virginia—she worked for WDBJ—along with her cameraman, Adam Ward, when they were broadcasting live, by a former anchor on that network, or a former reporter on WDBJ. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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