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Gun control debate resumes after live-television shooting

Businesses have started to re-open at the site where two WDBJ journalists were shot and killed earlier this week, while politicians and family members call for new gun control measures.

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    Dorothy McAuliffe gives Chris Hurst, Alison Parker's boyfriend a hug as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe consoles him, Friday, in Roanoke, Va. Governor McAuliffe met privately Friday with grieving station employees to share his condolences.
    Stephanie Klein-Davis/The Roanoke Times/AP
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As a Virginia town recovers from the on-air shooting of two television journalists by a former station employee earlier this week, and as tributes to the two journalists flow in from around the country, politicians are weighing in on new calls for gun control reforms.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward – a reporter and photographer, respectively, at Roanoke, Va., station WDBJ7 – were killed while reporting a story on Wednesday morning.

Ms. Parker’s father has said he will make it his mission to try to change gun laws.

Speaking to reporters outside WDBJ-TV7 on Friday, Andy Parker said that he supports stronger gun laws, and that he has spoken with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe about the issue.

Governor McAuliffe, a Democrat, also told reporters on Friday that he would push for gun control reforms in the state, including reintroducing legislation in the state assembly mandating background checks for gun buyers. The Republican-led legislature has rejected his gun control efforts since he took office last year.

“There are too many guns in America, and there is clearly too many guns in the wrong hands. So we’re going to do what we can,” said McAuliffe at a news conference on Friday.

He discussed his support for universal background checks, calling background checks “common sense,” but conceded that the gunman, Vester Flanagan, had passed a background check. 

Mr. Flanagan legally bought two Glock handguns, including the one used in the attack, according to USA Today, who cited a federal law enforcement official.

Politicians campaigning for president soon began to weigh in. Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic nomination, extended her condolences to the victims’ families and coworkers on Wednesday and promised to pursue gun control policies if elected.

“We’ve had so many terrible instances of it in the last two years, but it happens every day,” she said at a campaign event outside Des Moines, Iowa. “There is so much evidence that if guns were not so readily available, if we had universal background checks ... maybe we could prevent this kind of carnage.”

On Thursday, Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called for mental health treatment. He described Ms. Clinton’s comments as “a political reaction to something that’s much more sophisticated and challenging than that.”

“It’s unfortunate,” he said at a campaign stop in rural western Iowa. “The common thread we see in many of these cases is a failure in the system to help someone who is suffering from mental illness.”

In a fax to ABC News the day of the shooting, Flanagan, who was black, described himself as a “powder keg” of anger over what he saw as racial discrimination. He was fired from WDBJ in 2013, and other former employers have come out with stories of his short temper.

Don Shafer, who hired Flanagan in 1999 at WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Fla., said that Flanagan was a “clever, funny guy,” but that he also had conflicts with co-workers “to the point where he was threatening people.”

Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, who worked with Flanagan at WTWC, recalled him as “off-kilter” and someone who “never really made himself part of the team.”

Flanagan sued the station over allegations of race discrimination in 2000. The case was settled out of court.

In Roanoke today WDBJ and the rest of the community continued to recover from the shootings. 

The station’s morning anchor Kim McBroom started Friday’s 5 a.m. broadcast telling viewers: “another tough morning for us, but we’re soldiering on.” 

The broadcast was dominated by tributes to Parker and Mr. Ward, but there was also some news unrelated to the shooting.

And at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Va., where the shooting took place, businesses have begun to re-open around a memorial of flowers to the two victims. CJ’s Coffee and Sandwich Shop became the first business to re-open on Friday morning. 

Gifts Ahoy also opened its doors. Manager Lesley Kocsis told a reporter: “It’s very bittersweet, but we are glad to be back.”

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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