In a 23-page fax sent to ABC News, Virginia shooter Vester Lee Flanagan wrote that he was spurred by the Charleston church shooting earlier in June, which ended the lives of nine innocent black men and women.
“[It] sent me over the top.”
Flanagan who went by the alias "Bryce Williams" immediately went out and bought a gun of his own, following which he was, in his own words, "a powder keg just waiting to go BOOM!”
“Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15.”
Earlier today Flanagan used that gun to shoot two of his former colleagues dead, TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. They were only 24 and 27 years old, respectively.
Flanagan took out his anger against Dylann Roof and everything that he represents — racism, violence against black people, all of the abuse that Flanagan himself had experienced as a black man — on two innocent young white people. He heard Roof’s declaration of a desire to start a “race war” and he answered it. In so doing, he took two lives and made a mockery of what black people have been fighting for. In two trigger-pulls, he devastated a nation.
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Two conversations have been stirred in the aftermath of this tragedy: one regarding the fraught racial relations in the US today, and another about gun violence. Both of these are real problems in America today, but it seems wrong to use this as a platform to talk about the former. Why? Because Flanagan's actions were not a reflection of the black community. The black community may be angry, scared, and justifiably so, but no group of people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, condones retaliatory violence.
Which is why we turn instead to the issue of gun control. White House spokesman Josh Earnest and Democratic front runner Hilary Clinton have both spoken out about the need to reduce gun violence before any more lives can be taken.
Heartbroken and angry. We must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer. Praying for the victims' families in Virginia. -H— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 26, 2015
What could possibly have been done that could have prevented this tragedy?
A 2013 Gallup poll found that 91% of Americans are in favor of background checks before gun sales. But more often than not, the reality has been a far cry from the ideal. Depending on the state, it is sometimes easier to purchase a gun than it is to 1) procure an abortion, 2) qualify for food stamps, 3) get a permit to cut hair, 4) sell lemonade.
Some would argue that universal background checks are simply not enforceable in a population of our size, but that has not undercut the logic behind driving licenses.
Would it have prevented Flanagan, a man with no known history of violence, from buying and using a gun? Not necessarily. But it could help prevent some of the other 300,000 gun deaths that occur in America every year.
Sure, background checks would not prevent criminals from procuring guns through illegal means, if they put their minds to it. But if it could stop even a few deaths, is it not worth the added red tape?
But killers will kill regardless, people say, conveniently ignoring the fact that guns are their go-to weapon for a reason — quick and relatively detached. You can’t commit a mass murder with a knife or your hands alone.
And just because gun laws can’t stop all gun-related murders does not mean the law is broken. The laws against murder don’t stop all murders. The law that lowered the blood alcohol level for driving didn’t stop all drunk driving. But it helped.
What’s more, not all gun deaths are premeditated, or even deliberate. The Brady Campaign writes that 55 people kill themselves with a firearm each day on average, and 2 are killed unintentionally.
“There are over 300 million guns in America. Most are owned by law-abiding citizens without harmful or dangerous intent, yet they result in more than two-thirds of all gun deaths. “
“Too often these tragedies occur because guns are purchased or owned without giving proper weight to the risks of bringing guns into the home and unsafe access to those guns.”
Would any of these measures have prevented Flanagan's actions? Maybe not. His actions were his own, and the gun as an artifact cannot be blamed for it. But smarter gun laws could have prevented his access. They could have stalled him. They could have forced him to take other means of committing the crime he was so intent on committing.
This is all conjecture. What isn’t conjecture is the fact that states with higher gun ownership rates have more gun violence. What isn’t conjecture is that America, with 5% of the world’s population, owns nearly half of the world’s civilian guns. Have those helped stopped gun deaths? What does our gun murder rate, 20 times higher than any other developed nation, tell us?
The best we can do by the memories of Parker and Ward is do what we can, do whatever we can, to prevent any more such senseless deaths.