Gun debate revived after US journalist killings

  • 28/08/2015

By Robert MacPherson

The brazen killing of two US journalists during a live television broadcast by a former reporter fired by the station has reignited calls for tougher gun control in America - though there was little hope for change.

Mass shootings in the United States - from the 2012 school massacre in Newtown to June's slaying of black churchgoers in Charleston - regularly prompt widespread hand-wringing about easy US access to guns, and a need for action.

The killings on Wednesday (local time) of reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, as they conducted an early morning on-air interview for WDBJ - a CBS affiliate in Roanoke, Virginia - were no different.

"How many massacres do we have to have... before the public cries out and says what it is that they want us to do?" Roanoke Mayor David Bowers said on CNN. "We just haven't reached a consensus on this in America."

Parker and Ward were shot dead at close range by 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan, who was dismissed from WDBJ in 2013 over angry, erratic behaviour. Images from Ward's camera as the attack took place were aired live.

Parker's father Andy made an impassioned plea for change, saying his daughter's death had left him heartbroken.

"I'm for the Second Amendment, but there has to be a way to force politicians that are cowards and in the pockets of the NRA to come to grips and make sense - have sensible laws so that crazy people can't get guns," he said.

The constitution's Second Amendment - enshrining the right to bear arms - is defended tooth and nail by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the main US gun rights lobbying group, which has been successful in blunting drives to restrict weapons sales.

After the Roanoke attack, Wal-Mart said it will stop selling the AR-15 - the type of rifle used in Newtown and in the Colorado theatre massacre - and other semi-automatic weapons, but cited flagging demand as the reason.

Flanagan - also known as Bryce Williams - fatally shot himself after fleeing the scene, but not before posting video of the attack on social media.

He sent a rambling manifesto to ABC News, saying he was a "human powder keg... just waiting to go BOOM!" and had endured racial discrimination and bullying "for being a gay, black man."

Flanagan said he was sent over the edge by the Charleston church shooting, carried out by a white gunman who expressed support for white supremacist causes.

Devastated WDBJ staff mourned their colleagues, observing a moment of silence on-air.

"We will, over time, heal from this," said a grief-stricken morning anchor, Kimberly McBroom, holding hands with two colleagues on the set.

Outside the studio gates, bouquets of flowers and shiny remembrance balloons were placed under a tree wrapped with two black mourning ribbons. Viewers and local residents came by to pay their respects.