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WDBJ7 and What It Means for the Gun Control Debate

virginia-roanoke-valley-blue-ridge-mountains-ss-973__story-bodyI’m from Roanoke, Virginia, home of WDBJ7, the station that suffered a horrific loss last week live on television and social media. The people there made our area and journalism proud by covering it like professionals while simultaneously dealing with their unimaginable loss. Paul Craft, another one of our editors, is also from the immediate viewing area. As evidence of just how small and close knit the Roanoke area is and how deeply this has impacted everyone in the community, my mother has been the insurance agent to many of the station’s employees and was able to get me a career day internship at the station with Roy Stanly, a long time sports reporter, back in the day. It’s a day I remember fondly and everyone was so amazingly nice to me. Sadly, this is not the first gun related tragedy for my littler corner of the world, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful and believe I have the travel credentials to make such a claim.

As lovely as Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Mountains it’s nestled in are, it has seen more than its fair share of national headlines due to gun violence. There was a mass shooting in a gay bar there well-over a decade ago and Virginia Tech, home of America’s largest mass shooting, is just a 30 minute drive up interstate 81. All this said, I would not doubt I’m overlooking some other tragedy simply because I’ve been gone from there for so long and because they are now so common.

If I were king, there are a lot of things I would do to try to deal with mass shootings, a uniquely American problem in terms of its frequency, but I’m not. And it would clearly take someone with king-like powers to effect such change in our country as our sitting president has been thwarted time and again while trying to do even modest gun control laws like requiring background checks to make sure people with criminal histories and mental illness can’t get a hold of them…at least not as easily. tumblr_nq5qvmkuKc1qz72ywo1_500

Well, I have a very modest proposal to try to deal with this issue that I do not think many, even gun rights people, will find controversial. Let’s tax guns and bullets to raise government funds to treat mental illness. In 2013, guns and ammo manufacturers in the US generated approximately $15 billion in revenue. Just 1% of that could go a long way.

It’s estimated that as many as 14 million Americans suffer from serious mental illness. While Americans, thanks to the NRA, can’t even agree on denying some of them access to guns, I think we can all agree that we don’t do enough to give them treatment and that treatment could easily help prevent some of these incidences, most of which are acts of domestic violence with women and children as victims.

But wait, what’s that you say? Guns aren’t the problem? Violent movies and video games are? Let’s put a tax on them, too! I feel no need to argue any of the points surrounding what causes gun violence. Whether it’s access to and availability of guns or all the violence we are soaked in in this country with our mass media, I don’t care and am fine to say both likely play a role. So let’s tax things we believe to be at the heart of the problem to raise funds for something sorely needed: more mental illness treatment. We might not be able to treat everyone who needs help, but this tax would certainly allow us to do more than we are now.

Still, some will say this won’t be enough and that we shouldn’t do it because it won’t fully solve the problem. To them I say I am tired of doing nothing…I’m beyond tired. I’m fed up. Doing nothing hasn’t gotten us anywhere. Even if a proposal like this doesn’t yield any quantifiable results, it will at least be addressing a real problem and it will at least end our defeatist attitude of saying if all gun deaths can’t be prevented we shouldn’t even try. The defeatist amongst us show that trying to prevent gun violence suffers from trying to prove a negative. “This didn’t happen because we did this to prevent it from happening.” So let me make this clear, not only will gun violence in America continue to happen long after any actions are taken to try to stop it, but that fact will be used by many to keep saying it’s proof nothing can be done, but right now we are doing nothing and that clearly isn’t working either. In the face of the level of violence that is so uniquely American, I’d rather be trying something than doing nothing at all, and I think a tax to raise funds to deal with a ridiculously obvious problem in our society, and a leading cause of these kinds of shootings, is a good first step for a country that has thrown its hands up in defeat while it’s men, women and children have been shot down in an endless parade of mass shootings.

Brian M. Williams
Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."

One thought on “WDBJ7 and What It Means for the Gun Control Debate

  1. If any of you have been folllowing our articles here at NSB you’d notice that Brian M. Williams and I are on opposite ends of the gun spectrum. But on this article I’d have to say I agree with him. I work in the mental health field and I’m also pro-gun. I’ve personally had clients who have admitted to me (on many occasions) that they shouldn’t be allowed to have a gun. Which is great that they have the awareness to identify their instability. Also, it’s illegal to own a firearm if you’ve been psychiatrically hospitalized. Which means if you have a gun collection and you get hospitalized, then you’re no longer allowed to access it. You can sell them or gift them to another person. I 100% agreed with this. However, right now there are no agencies or anyone for that matter (that I’m aware of) who essentially try and figure out if the hospitalized person has firearms. Other than asking them of course. The other issue is even if we find out the person who has been hospitalized does in fact have firearms at home, who is going to go get them or at least make sure they’ve been sold or gifted? I know I wouldn’t want to be knocking on that door. As far as the taxes are concerned I understand where Brian is coming from. Being proactive and taking action makes us feel better and can yield positive results. I would personally be okay with a 5 cent tax on a box of shells. Or a $1 tax on a firearm if it were to be spent on mental illness. But far more people are killed every year using fists, feet, hammers, knives etc than any gun. Do we raise taxes on knives and tools as well? Should we tax cigarettes and spend that money on lung cancer research? Do we tax the pharmaceutical companies to research overdoses? Do we tax foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and sodium for research on obesity? Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions. Instead of “How did he kill those people?” maybe we should be asking, “Why did he kill those people?”.

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