UPDATED: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe wasted no time in the wake of Wednesday morning’s horrifying on-air fatal shooting of a reporter and cameraman from a Roanoke television station to push for gun control, according to quotes published by the Washington Post, but there are now indications that the alleged gunman may have been acting out some kind of revenge scenario in retaliation for the Charleston church shooting.
McAuliffe wasn’t alone. Speaking to reporters after the shooting, White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated, “As you’ve heard me say in the past, this is another example of gun violence that is becoming all too common in communities large and small across the United States.
“And while there is no piece of legislation that will end all violence in this country,” he continued, “there are some common-sense things that only Congress can do that we know would have a tangible impact in reducing gun violence in this country and Congress could take those steps in a way that would not infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans and the president has long advocated Congress taking those steps…”
McAuliffe, quoted not only by the Post but also by the Washington Times, asserted, “There are too many guns in the hands of people who should not have guns. This is why I’ve long advocated for background checks…” The Washington Times’ quote added that McAuliffe said, “I’m a gun owner, I’m a hunter. But you know what? I went through background checks myself … in America, we have got to come together. There is too much gun violence in the United States of America.”
ABC News has also reported that the suspected gunman, identified as Vester Lee Flanagan and known on air as Bryce Williams, allegedly said in a 23-page fax sent to the network under Williams’ name that he was apparently motivated to act by the Charleston church shooting, and that race might have played a part. One of the quotes released by ABC News attributed to the gunman was this: “As for Dylann Roof? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE…(deleted)!!!” ABC News quickly contacted authorities.
If the suspect bought the pistol in June at retail, as suggested in the fax to ABC News purported to have come from Flanagan/Williams, he would likely have gone through a background check. There may be more information forthcoming on that part of the story.
WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were gunned down during a live shot at about 6:45 a.m. Eastern time during an interview with a woman identified as Vicki Gardner, with the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce at Bridgewater Plaza in Franklin County. Gardner was wounded but was recovering following surgery, according to Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton, who briefed reporters Wednesday afternoon.
The suspect shot himself hours later following a manhunt, and later died at a Falls Church hospital. He was reportedly fired from the station two years ago and had filed a complaint against the station with the EEOC but it was dismissed, according to various reports.
At the time McAuliffe made his assertion about background checks there was no indication that the suspected gunman was a prohibited person. How would a background check have prevented the shooting, which appears to have been recorded by Flanagan in a video that was posted on social media and viewed by this column before it was deleted from various social media?
However, that video is out there, and it’s not going away. As many as 13-14 shots can be heard on that full video, including the eight that were captured on audio by the slain cameraman.
The first shots were fired at close range at Parker and then it appears the gun was turned on Ward and Gardner. There was something more disturbing about that video. The pistol is visibly aimed at Parker for a few seconds but then is pulled back, almost as if there is hesitation, and the three victims appeared oblivious to his presence until the first shots are fired. The gunman was apparently waiting to be sure the camera was on Parker before firing.
Parker and Ward have been described a very good in their work, both well-liked and respected by their heartbroken colleagues. Both videos are graphic and chilling.
But the question remains: How would a background check law have prevented this tragedy?
There is something else. WDBJ is the local CBS affiliate. This crime, because it was captured on video, and because the victims were broadcast journalists, could easily become the centerpiece of a new push for gun control. As Gov. McAuliffe’s remarks demonstrate, that process could already be under way.
Journalists take chances in war zones, and at riots and demonstrations, as noted by WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks, in remarks to CNN. A reporter named Marcus Kellogg was killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Ernie Pyle was killed by a sniper in WWII. But to be senselessly murdered doing a live shot on what some might call a puff piece tourism story seems incomprehensible.
There is plenty of speculation about why the suspect recorded the shooting. Terrorists record beheadings and mass executions. As someone with a background in broadcast news, was he merely trying for the ultimate sensationalism? Now that he has died, that question may never be fully answered.
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