Berman: Parker’s fight for gun control will be hard

Laura Berman
The Detroit News

Last week, Andy Parker’s daughter Alison Parker was shot and killed during a morning broadcast seen live by thousands of Roanoke, Virginia TV viewers, and witnessed by untold millions who clicked on social media and websites that portrayed the shooting.

His daughter’s brutal, televised death was a conversion moment for Andy Parker, who has vowed to spend the rest of his life trying to end gun violence. He thinks he can do it: He doesn’t expect it to be hard.

And yet it will be far more difficult than he imagines, because most Americans do not share the grief-stricken passion of Andy Parker for regulating and controlling America’s guns.

Parker’s an outlier, because over the last 20 years, after mass shootings in movie theaters and middle schools, in Sandy Hook and Charleston, Americans have become less supportive of gun regulation. When asked which is more important, controlling gun ownership or gun rights, a majority responded “gun rights” in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a coalition of groups that lobbies Congress, has been blocked for a decade on its initiative to require background checks on handgun sales at gun shows or in private homes.

In Michigan, the Legislature has been eager to advance the National Rifle Association’s check list. Last year, when state rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak, proposed legislation to require universal background checks for all gun show purchases or private sales, he was shouted down. All it took, was “a quick voice vote,” reported MLive, and the assurance of the executive director of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners that Michigan already has “nearly” universal background checks.

Michigan lawmakers are leaving a few legal venues available for deranged gun-buyers, not by chance but as a deliberate policy choice.

Also in 2014, House bills 5688 and 5689 to create a gun violence restraining order died in the House Judiciary Committee, never surfacing for a cheerful shout-down. The so-called “GVRO” would enable family members or police to petition a judge for permission to remove firearms from a person deemed at risk, because of a mental health crisis.

But Michigan’s legislators are cheerfully creative in their ability to make guns more accessible and palatable to the population. Last year, they passed a package of laws that banned county gun boards, essentially making Michigan a “shall issue” handgun state, a change the NRA had sought for years.

In the U.S., we don’t keep close tabs on gun manufacturers or on gun data. We keep far better track of our automobiles than our Glocks and AR-15s, as Nicholas Kristof observed in the New York Times after the shootings last week. “In the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths,” he wrote. “ If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a PIN; guns don’t.”

Yes, we worship our cars, but we also willingly submit them to safety regulations, branding by identification number, and oversight by federal agencies.

I admire the passion of Alison Parker’s heartbroken parents, who are using their raw grief to inspire change, but recognize that gun rights advocates are historically more committed and determined than people who share the Parkers’ views. “We have to ask ourselves: What do we need to do to stop this insanity?” Andy Parker asked, in a Washington Post piece Sunday. He is about to learn that he has his life’s work ahead of him.