Another grieving parent steps forward, while politicians cower
It isn’t difficult to appreciate Andy Parker’s need to channel his soul-rattling grief into a crusade for change. Since his daughter Alison, a Virginia television journalist, her cameraman, Adam Ward, were shot to death on live TV, Andy Parker has made clear his intention to take on the National Rifle Association — and any politician who objects to even the most basic gun-control measures.
“How many times are we going to see an incident like this happen?” Parker said during an NBC News interview. “You know, Newtown, Charleston, the movie theaters, you name it. It’s got to stop. It has got to stop.” He added, “We’ve got to find a way to keep crazy people from getting guns — mentally unstable people.”
Sadly, mass shootings — generally considered anything more than four people dead or wounded, including the killer — are so common, public reactions have become our violent culture’s Stations of the Cross. There’s grim wall-to-wall coverage, the combing of social media sites for clues, talk of untreated or unrecognized mental illness, and rote statements of sympathy from politicians on both sides of the aisle. (On HBO’s acerbic political comedy “Veep,” that statement is referenced as “a thoughts-and-prayers template.”)
Then there are the parents, bereft but determined to make gun control a priority. Sixteen years ago, it was Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was among the 12 students and one teacher murdered at Columbine High School in Colorado. More recently, it was Richard Martinez, after his son Christopher was killed during a drive-by rampage near the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2014. The elder Martinez’s rage-filled cry, “Not One More,” gave the antigun movement its mantra.
Before Martinez, there was Sandy Hook Promise, comprising parents of the 20 children slaughtered, with six adults, in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in 2012. On Air Force One, they carried their sorrow and portraits of their smiling children to the halls of Congress, hopeful that the school atrocity would provide a moment of clarity. At the time, a senior Obama administration official told ABC News, “There is no more effective advocate than a parent who has lost a child.”
It wasn’t effective enough. With the parents and other survivors of gun violence looking on, a relatively modest proposal to expand background checks failed the following spring. President Obama called it “a pretty shameful day for Washington.” Perhaps. It would have been, if the members of Congress who voted against the bill were still capable of shame.
Now, as the newest member of a terrible club no parent wants to join, it is Andy Parker’s time. The cameras and microphones will record his every word — for awhile — as they once did for Mauser, Martinez, and Sandy Hook Promise.
“There are more people [in America] killed by gun-related deaths than [every] industrialized country on the planet combined, and it’s got to stop,” Parker told ABC. “And politicians have got to be put on notice, and I’m going to be the one to start it, and I don’t care how much time it takes me.”
It’s a conversation that, unfortunately, often fails to find reason or resolution. Gun control is the third rail of modern American politics, and with each murder, craven politicians choose to ignore that we are a nation with more guns than common sense. Like so many bereaved parents before him, Parker has found purpose in his pain, and that will likely endure long after the media’s restless attention has strayed. For his daughter Alison, he will speak and fight. Yet the men and women elected to serve our country can only offer empty empathy so long as they fear the wrath of the NRA more than another senseless massacre.
Renée Graham writes regularly for the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.