Like most of America, I was stunned by Wednesday’s murders of reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward during a live report for a Virginia television station. The shootings were sickening and senseless.
Those of us who have reported for live television, or have operated a camera or a live truck, most likely felt a special hurt. Television crews broadcast from pretty dangerous places — war zones, natural disasters, crime scenes. Live shots in the bitter cold and brutal heat are common. Riot? Tornado? Car wreck? Black Friday sale? Rowdy postgame crowd? No problem.
A tourist center should have been less threatening.
TV crews understand their work can be dangerous. Reporters and photographers aren’t fearless, but realistic: They appreciate the need to bear witness to events. (Meaningless live shots in front of empty buildings and darkened streets are also routine, and another matter. Most reporters and photographers hate them.)
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Yet for all this, let’s be clear: Wednesday’s murders were deeply tragic, but not unique. Meaningless violence, almost always at the end of a gun, is appallingly routine in our country.
A man is on trial now in Johnson County, accused of shooting three people to death because he believed they did not share his faith. Gun violence in Kansas City has taken the lives of children, teenagers, the elderly, young adults. People have been shot to death in church, in movie theaters, in their cars, in schools and colleges, on the sidewalk.
At this point in a column, typically, gun rights activists throw down their newspaper or click their computer mouse, bitterly convinced anti-gun types are “exploiting” the latest tragedy in order to confiscate their weaponry. They are wrong. It is simply reporting a fact — thousands of Americans every year die from gunfire.
There are answers to this epidemic. Opponents of gun restrictions argue for an increased focus on the mentally ill, and there is much evidence that approach could make some difference. Suggestions that everyone carry a gun seem less helpful — last December, two armed New York police officers were shot to death in their patrol car. They were the ultimate “good guys with a gun.” It made no difference.
Someday, though, Americans will decide enough carnage is enough. No constitutional right is absolute. I can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater and claim free speech. Gun rights aren’t absolute either, a fact gun owners may come to understand.
It’s a story Alison Parker and Adam Ward might have covered. Sadly, they won’t. We’re all the poorer for it.