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Gun violence in the US

US politician whose girlfriend was shot dead on live TV, beats gun lobby candidate in Virginia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 10:37pm

A first-time politician who lost his girlfriend to gun violence has defeated the National Rifle Association-backed incumbent in a state house race in Virginia. Chris Hurst, a former television journalist, ran on a platform that included gun violence prevention.

Hurst’s victory, just two days after a mass shooting at a Texas church left 26 people dead, was hailed by gun control advocates as proof that it is possible to make progress on America’s gun violence crisis at the local level. Despite a series of increasingly frequent, deadly mass shootings, congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump continue to block any attempt at gun law reform in Washington.

Hurst’s girlfriend, 24-year-old journalist Alison Parker, was shot dead on live television during a routine morning broadcast in 2015, along with WDBJ7 cameraman Adam Ward. Parker had been quietly dating Hurst, another reporter at the station, and they had just moved in together. A reported 40,000 people watched the shooting live.

A year after Parker’s death, Hurst was sent to cover a very similar workplace shooting, this one at a Roanoke railcar manufacturing company. Hurst covered the news, but he was shaken by the similarities between the two shootings, and said he decided to leave his job as a television journalist that day.

“I would not be who I am right now if the person I love was not killed with a gun,” he said in February, the month he announced he was running for state office in Virginia’s house of delegates.

While he emphasised he was far from a one-issue candidate, Hurst said from the beginning that gun violence prevention was one of his issues, along with support for more funding and emphasis on mental health care.

“We must change the way we address the thousands of Virginians who die each year by bullets from guns,” his campaign website reads. “I will take the same objective, pragmatic approach to investigating solutions as I had when I worked as a journalist.”

On Tuesday, Hurst won with 54 per cent of the vote to defeat Joseph Yost, an incumbent with an A-rating from the NRA.

Hurst has described an approach to gun violence prevention that was strikingly different from the gun control positions endorsed by Hillary Clinton in her 2016 presidential bid, and by other Democrats of Clinton’s generation.

“We have a lot of work to do to cut out the BS when it comes to gun violence prevention,” Hurst said.

He questioned the utility of gun bans, saying: “I think it’s difficult to ban any type of weapon without real data to demonstrate it shouldn’t be in the hands of the common resident.”

Instead, he said he wanted to focus on more targeted policies designed to keep guns out of the hands of people at moments when they are most at risk of violence. That’s an approach that researchers and mental health experts have endorsed.

For instance, he supported a “gun violence restraining order”, which would create a way for police or family members to ask a judge for a temporary confiscation of guns from someone who seems to be heading towards violence. This year, advocates across 20 states have launched a joint effort to pass these extreme risk protection order laws.

“What I care about most is trying to reduce the number of people who die with a gun, whether it’s homicide or suicide. The last thing I would want to do is to try to change someone’s culture or their way of life,” Hurst said. “A gun violence protection order – we could build a consensus around it. It would be effective. It would work.”

On his campaign website Hurst emphasised the need to address domestic violence, accidental shootings and the disproportionate impact of gun violence on Americans of colour.

Gun control groups that had supported Hurst celebrated his victory on Tuesday night.

“Gun sense champions won up and down the ballot,” Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund said in a statement. The gun control group said it had endorsed and contributed more than US$2.2 million to five Democratic candidates who won in Virginia, from Hurst to Ralph Northam, who was elected governor.

“Hurst’s victory is proof that pro-LGBTQ and pro-gun reform candidates can win, even in rural southwest Virginia,” said the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, which also endorsed him.

The NRA spent at least US$30 million to put Trump in the White House. “You came through for me and I am going to come through for you,” he subsequently told NRA members at their annual meeting.