Keenan: Late journalist’s parents vow to bring change

Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

Another day, another mass shooting, another set of parents vow to stop the insanity, and the most heavily armed civilian population in the world figures this, too, shall pass.

This time, the carnage was particularly heinous because it occurred on live television. Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two 20-something journalists for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, were executed by a mad man with a gun in the midst of a live interview.

For those of us who did not turn away despite a CNN anchor’s warning, Parker’s screams “Oh my God!” — as the 24-year-old beloved daughter, friend and fiancé fell dead — were almost unbearable.

But the operative word here is “almost.” Because after I shuddered to think what I would do if I were that poor girl’s mother, I got in the car, drove to work and went on with my life unfettered.

You have to wonder: with each successive mass shooting, are we becoming more inured to the root cause? When are we going to reach our tipping point? When will the headlines stop repeating themselves? When will reducing gun violence stop falling on deaf ears? When is it going to be too close to home?

Within days, Parker’s parents, Andy and Barbara Parker, turned their anguish into impassioned gun control advocacy, writing op-eds and appearing on numerous networks.

“I plan to make my life’s work trying to implement effective and reasonable safeguards against this happening again,” Andy Parker wrote in the Washington Post. “What do we need to do stop this insanity? In my case, the answer is ‘Whatever it takes.’ ”

Barbara Parker vowed not to buckle under the pressure of the well-financed NRA and forceful defenders of the Second Amendment. “There are people out there whose minds we will never change,” she said. “If you are a parent, if you are a mother, if you have children — how can you look your child in the eye and say we are willing to allow you to be collateral damage in order to keep what some people perceive to be their constitutional right? If we as a society are willing to accept that, what kind of society are we?”

The disgrace is that we have been here before — and not just in Newtown, where the massacre of 20 kindergartners and six educators was supposed to make us take gun control seriously.

In May 2014, Richard Martinez’s 20-year-old son Christopher was one of six University of California-Santa Barbara students mowed down in a hail of bullets. At a memorial service for the victims, Martinez blasted politicians just as Parker’s parents are doing now.

“There haven’t been any leaders on this issue,” Martinez said. “They have done nothing, and that’s why Chris died, and the other kids … It’s almost become a normal thing for us to accept this.”

He asked the crowd to stand with him and, raising his fist, urged them to chant, “Not one more! So loud they will hear you in Washington!” They did just that, the chant reverberating around the stadium long after Martinez left the stage.

One year later “Not one more” has become: Nine dead in a shooting at a black church in Charleston, S.C.; four marines and one sailor killed in attacks on a Chattanooga, Tenn., military facility; and three killed when a gunman opened fire in a Louisiana movie theater.

And that’s just the mass shootings that make the headlines. All told, 33,000 people die each year as a result of gun violence in this country. On average, that’s one life every 16 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a rate that’s higher than any other developed country on the planet. We are also the only advanced nation on earth that lacks what the President calls “sufficient, common-sense gun safety laws.”

So when Alison Parker’s parents talk about allowing our kids to be collateral damage, I get it. We all do. But a good part me feels once we gave Newtown a free pass, once those politicians refused to look at the Sandy Hook parents holding photos of their dead children, meaningful gun control was a lost cause.

When Andy Parker vows: “I promise you these people are messing with the wrong family. We are going to effect a change,” we all better pray he’s right. Because odds are, collateral damage is right around the corner.