Virginia Tech survivor: The gun lobby’s foolish answer

Editor’s Note: Editor’s note: Colin Goddard is a Virginia Tech shooting survivor and a senior policy advocate for Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

Story highlights

Colin Goddard: NRA likes to say the answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun

The shocking shooting of two journalists on a live shot shows the emptiness of NRA's response, he says

CNN  — 

Early Wednesday morning, Alison Parker and Adam Ward were on assignment in Moneta, Virginia – Parker as a reporter and Ward as a cameraman. Working for WDBJ7, Roanoke’s CBS affiliate, they were working on a story about the 50th anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake and interviewing Vicki Gardner, who leads Smith Mountain Lake’s Chamber of Commerce.

Colin Goddard

In other words, they were doing their jobs.

Until, in a few terrifying moments on live TV, they weren’t.

Instead they became two more victims of our nation’s gun violence epidemic. A disgruntled former WDBJ employee shot them both, severely wounding Gardner in the process. It was a chilling look at gun violence in this country, a crisis that kills more than 30,000 Americans each and every year.

Wednesday’s horror hit particularly close to home for me, because, like Ward, I, too, am an alum of Virginia Tech. It’s conceivable that I could have crossed paths with him during our shared time on the Blacksburg campus. A little over eight years ago I survived the infamous mass shooting at Tech, which is less than 80 miles from where Ward died. Shrapnel is still lodged in my body from that day, but I was lucky to emerge with my life intact. Thirty-two others were killed.

The extremist leadership of the National Rifle Association and other gun lobby groups routinely respond to these incidents with empty platitudes about how “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In light of what transpired Wednesday, I’d like to follow their rhetoric to its logical end by asking them a couple of simple questions that our elected officials answer all too rarely.

Are reporters supposed to keep a revolver in their left hands and hold onto the microphone with their right? Do cameramen avert death if they stare down the sights of an AR-15 with one eye while looking into the camera with the other?

These questions, of course, reveal the absurdly unserious nature of the gun lobby’s worldview.

While the details of how the shooter in the televised killing obtained his weapon continue to unfold, we know that requiring background checks on all gun sales would save lives. And yet despite this, gun lobby groups routinely hawk the idea that implementing background checks on all gun sales is overly burdensome to prospective buyers, as if the 90 additional seconds required to make sure the buyer isn’t a convicted domestic abuser or dangerously mentally ill is somehow an affront to one’s rights.

Try telling that to a family member whose loved one was killed because a gunman avoided a background check. And yet for years, these groups have had enough political clout to scare politicians out of backing common sense reforms. Every year in Virginia, a small group of four gun lobby-backed legislators won’t even allow a basic background checks bill out of a House subcommittee.

While checks are required on sales at federally licensed dealers, criminals and other dangerous people can all too easily shirk such checks by purchasing guns from unlicensed strangers – whether online, at a gun show or elsewhere.

After tragedies like Wednesday’s, gun extremists will often try to change the subject. Sometimes they’ll suggest it’s “too soon” to talk about the bigger-picture policy issues that could help reduce gun violence. They’ll say that it would be “irresponsible to politicize” these moments, as if merely discussing ways to prevent future tragedies like these somehow dishonors the victims. If we followed this logic, there would never be a time to have these conversations, because 88 Americans are shot and killed every day.

The truth is, elected officials who aren’t willing to take action want these events to recede from the headlines so they can return to the status quo of not standing up to the gun lobby.

It’s time for all Americans to come together and ask our lawmakers, “Do you side with the overwhelming number of Americans who support basic gun safety measures or do you side with the gun lobby?”

For the sake of the many Americans whose lives were destroyed during this cruel summer of gun violence – while doing their jobs, enjoying a night out at the movies, or praying in their house of worship – we demand that political leaders side the right way and take action to end this crisis.

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