Seven years ago, my colleague and friend, Michael Bishop, a science-fiction writer, lost his son in the Virginia Tech shooting massacre. Since then, he and his wife Jeri dedicated their lives to trying to make no one else has to lose another loved one in a senseless tragedy.
1) What got the two of you motivated to get involved in the gun debate?
“We were interested in reducing gun violence even before our son died along with thirty-one other teachers and students on April 16, 2007, during the shootings that morning at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg,” Bishop wrote. “We had contributed to and believed in the goals of the Brady Campaign. Once we had recovered a little from the devastating VT massacre, we began to think about the issue even more strongly. Early on, we became involved in a virtually spontaneous movement to turn a portion of Norris Hall, where the shootings had occurred, into a center for peace and violence-prevention studies, and those of us supporting this goal were ultimately successful.”
“We had also hoped that the worst school shooting in the history of this nation would move our elected officials to do something to make such events rarer and less extreme in their results. Still, no matter how many or how few die, the impact upon survivors, including friends and loved ones of the slain as well as persons wounded and/or traumatized by these events, is always extreme. We also noted that in the specific case of Virginia Tech, the shooter was able to buy his guns online because a flaw in the guidelines of Virginia law resulted in his mentally instability going unreported in his background check. (The state of Virginia repaired that lesion in its law after the shootings.)”
2) Can you talk about your activities, how you went from being on the sidelines to being fully involved?
“We did as much as we could while still working full-time jobs. I wrote op-ed pieces, and both Jeri and I took part in a Protest Easy Guns Lie-In in an urban park in Atlanta in 2008, I believe. In May, 2012, Jeri and I retired from our day jobs, Jeri as a counselor at Troup County’s Rosemont Elementary and I as writer-in-residence at LaGrange College. It seemed to us that the NRA had stepped up its aggressive ‘defense’ of our allegedly embattled second-amendment rights and that our elected officials had grown even more sheep-like in their obeisance to the NRA than they had been at any previous time in our history.”
“We also began to realize that although gun violence takes nearly three dozen lives a day in the U.S., mass shootings are relatively rare and constitute only a small part of the problem. Even so, each mass shooting raises the profile of gun violence and prompts an outcry from the public that ‘something’ should be done. The NRA then warns that the second amendment is under attack. Gun lovers panic. Politicos declare their loyalty to the defense of the second amendment. Gun sales soar. And the gun industry–along with the NRA, which receives small percentages of the sale of both guns and ammo–agitates its base and lifts its profits.”
“This progression led us to join the effort to find sensible solutions to gun violence, efforts that the gun industry seems to do all in its power to thwart even though it’s pretty clear that expanded background checks and the absence in about half of our states of ill-advised stand-your-ground laws do in fact reduce gun violence. The public, including many members of the NRA itself, has begun to understand that we do not have to bow to the gun industry and the NRA forever. Some states, like Connecticut after Sandy Hook, have adopted measures that have actually lowered the instances of gun violence. Sadly, Georgia’s intimidated politicians have moved us in the other direction.”
3) Are you for banning all guns, or something else?
“I don’t see how we could ban ‘all guns’ without a Constitutional amendment to that effect. And we don’t propose that. We propose universal background checks, even at gun shows where independent dealers can sell virtually any type of firearm, with virtually no limit, to any person and can do so without such a check. We also believe that persons applying for carry permits should have to take a gun-safety course and some stipulated training in the use of their weapons. There are no such provisions in Georgia law, and there should be. Our lawmakers should never have considered an expansion of gun rights without first instituting these measures, and, obviously, they didn’t do so before passing HB 60.”
“Oh, yes, to reduce the number of mass shootings and limit their death tolls, we should take military-style weapons off the commercial market, do the same for high-capacity magazines, and better fund mental-health initiatives. None of these actions, and certainly not the last one, significantly ‘infringe’ on any civilian’s second-amendment rights, but no one affiliated with the gun industry will concede the point.”
4) What have [we] learned while getting involved and trying to make a difference?
“In becoming involved in the gun-sense movement, which is gaining strength, we’ve learned that most people don’t think about guns that much and that those who do think about them, think about them a lot, to the point of total preoccupation. Average citizens suppose that their lawmakers will act in the public’s interest and pass sensible laws; they find it hard to believe what their elected officials actually do when left to the blandishments and threats of the gun industry. Its well-funded lobbyists and allies–the NRA, in particular–go to work to make them fear for their political lives.”