Slain WDBJ reporter Alison Parker’s father, Andy Parker, has become the latest grieving parent calling for gun control. We are all seduced by the notion that simply understanding the impact on real people of the failure to create meaningful universal background checks will somehow lead to a rational response by Congress. We were certain this would happen after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and now the slaying of Parker and her cameraman, Adam Ward. The challenge is to sustain the pressure on lawmakers after the klieg lights are turned off.
Connecticut did pass stiffer laws after the Newtown massacre, as did Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Several others states have also passed piecemeal restrictions. Walmart stopped selling semi-automatic rifles. So there is progress, but, to staunch significant bloodshed will require a nationwide change, not just an episodic response in the immediate emotional aftermath of a tragedy.
So here’s a simple idea. The ABC Sunday morning program This Week with George Stephanopoulos has, for several years, concluded its broadcast with a posting of the military lives lost that week in Iraq and then Afghanistan. Names, ages, hometowns. A somber reading. But the gun-fueled war in our streets and homes and on our campuses has resulted in far more deaths, more than 33,000 a year, according to the Center for Disease Control. And these are more senseless and preventable than deaths in foreign combat.
Time and again we’re presented with data showing the United States more prone to gun violence than elsewhere in the developed world. And killings here are affecting young people disproportionately. (They’re both perpetrators and victims.) One recent study indicates that American children are 65 times more likely to be killed with a gun than children and teenagers in the United Kingdom.
If at least 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day, scroll the victims’ names, ages and home towns at the end of the nightly news. The names of gun victims could be incorporated not just in news and public affairs programs, which have narrow, self-selecting audiences, but in prime time programming. Socially conscious scripting, including in daytime soaps, helped change cultural attitudes on drunk driving and facilitated the passage of designated driver programs nationally.
In some shootings, we’re told that the cause is not the guns themselves but mental illness. But most who say it fail to push for more mental health services, and easily available guns give mentally ill shooters the ready means to act on their sick impulses. We’re also told that cultural violence, in video games and other media, spurs shootings. Plenty of viewers, of course, play such games and watch such movies without going out to kill someone. Again, it’s the perpetrators’ mental health, or lack thereof, that makes the difference. We can argue about root causes (including poverty and despair) forever, but it’s our lax gun laws that make the slaughter so easy. This is true whether you’re talking about the deranged, gang shooters, accidental shootings or suicide.
We know that a craven Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, fearful of the National Rifle Association, is loath to take reasonable action. Should any program that simply lists the day’s or week’s gun death toll be equally fearful of retaliation by the NRA? The organization claims 4.5 million members, with many millions more supporters. But if programming is good, would those members really be able to carry out a pledge to boycott a network committed enough to publish such a list? I doubt it.
Isn’t it time to activate the tens of millions who believe that substantive background checks and meaningful standards to deny gun licenses are essential to curbing the bloodshed? Shouldn’t we sustain our efforts to lean on our Congress people? Pressure our media? Keep putting a face and name to the thousands of victims of gun violence? Will ABC – or any other network for that matter – step up and at least weekly name the victims?
I welcome your comments in the section below. To be alerted when a new blog is posted, click on “Follow’ in the lower right portion of your screen.