Virginia shooting sparks debate about gun violence

By Rachel Popa

In the wake of the tragedy that occurred in Roanoke, Virginia on Aug. 26 where WDBJ television reporter Allison Parker and photographer Adam Ward were fatally shot on live television, a discussion about gun violence and mental health has started. The culprit behind the shootings, Bryce Williams, has been reported by CNN to have had mental health and anger problems, as well as altercations with other employees at the news station where he once worked with the victims of the shooting. Williams sent a chilling fax to ABC News before the shooting, saying, “I’ve been a human powder keg for a while….just waiting to go BOOM.”

After the shooting, Williams killed himself after getting pulled over off of Interstate 66 by police. Dr. Howard Schwartz, a mental health expert and Psychiatrist-in-Chief for Hartford Hospital, commented on William’s state of mental health prior to the shooting, saying, “This is obviously not an emotionally stable person…[Williams] is a very, very angry person who would seem in some ways to be perhaps delusional.”

Williams legally purchased two handguns one month prior to the shooting from a federally licensed gun store in Virginia, and passed a criminal background check that allowed him to do so, according to USA Today. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe called for action to be made in the wake of the tragedy, saying, “it is appropriate to begin to ask questions about how we can prevent these senseless events in the future…Keeping guns out of the hands of people who would use them to harm our family, friends and loved ones is not a political issue; it is a matter of ensuring that more people can come home safely at the end of the day.”

Parker’s boyfriend, fellow WDBJ reporter Chris Hurst, also called for new laws to be passed that would make it harder for those who are mentally ill to purchase firearms.

“How many times are we going to see incidents like this happen?” Parker said. “We have to find a way to keep crazy people from getting guns.”

Hurst also commented on other mass shootings that have taken place recently, saying, “There needs to be some action that is taken out of an event like this — out of an event like Sandy Hook, like Charleston, like Aurora, Colorado… where these things just don’t occur anymore.”

Roosevelt University exchange student from Spain, Alba Ortiz, commented on the shooting in Virginia. “It was really shocking,” Ortiz said. “It’s even harder for European people to understand why gun laws aren’t reviewed…you just don’t expect anyone to have a gun [in Europe].”

While some have blamed the tragedy on the gun control problem in the U.S., others have cited that the stigma of dealing with and treating mental health is also to blame. The president and CEO of Mental Health America, Paul Gionfriddo, released a statement after the shooting.

“It is time we invest in the overall physical and mental well-being of all our citizens—every day,” Gionfriddo said. “It is past time that we begin to act before crises occur, to prevent them and the horrible sadness they invariably leave in their wake.”

“Nothing can reverse the horrible result of [the] violence [in Virginia], but that does not mean we bury our heads in the sand and do nothing,” he said. “Now is the time to erase the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental illness, to address mental health…and to intervene effectively to save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illnesses.”

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