He called the NRA terrorists. Now he's running for Congress to "restore civility"

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Andy Parker has experienced one of the worst things that can ever happen to a parent; the murder of their child. Parker’s daughter Alison was killed along with her co-worker Adam Ward in August of 2016 as they were conducting a live television interview at Smith Mountain Lake in central Virginia. Their killer was a former colleague at the Roanoke television station where Parker and Ward worked who’d been fired two years earlier after complains that he had been making co-workers feel threatened and uncomfortable.

In the aftermath of his daughter’s death, Andy Parker became a vocal proponent of gun control and an outspoken critic of anyone who dared to disagree with his ideas. In fact, in 2016 Parker even called me a terrorist during an interview with CNN in reaction to my comments on NRA News about a Democratic pro-gun control publicity stunt on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“The real terrorists are the folks at the NRA. Those are the terrorists. And unfortunately, you have politicians that are complicit — they’ve pledged allegiance to the NRA versus the United States of America and the safety of its citizens,” Parker said to CNN.

Parker made these comments in response to a NRA radio host, Cam Edwards, who criticized the democratic lawmakers and the leader of the sit-in, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who were holding a sit in on the House floor.

“So in order to push legislation that the sponsors say would not have prevented the attacks in Orlando, Florida, they’re also going to flout the House rules.  Kind of like, you know, criminals and terrorists flout the rules that we have in place right now and will continue to do so,” Edwards said.

Honestly, I didn’t take Parker’s insult personally at the time and I feel the same way today. Alison Parker and Adam Ward’s deaths were senseless and tragic, and while I will never agree with him that more gun control laws will lead to a safer society, he’s certainly entitled to his own opinion and activism. That doesn’t mean, however, that I want him representing me in Congress.

Parker announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District to challenge one of the most conservative members of the House and an ardent gun-rights supporter, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) — a tough race for a Democrat.

But Parker said that fighting gun violence, though still important to him, is not the focal point of his congressional campaign. Over the past few years, Parker has been battling YouTube and other social-media platforms as he looks to remove videos of his daughter Alison Parker’s violent death.

He said he hoped taking on Big Tech and amending Section 230 — a provision in the Communications Decency Act that has largely shielded social media platforms from accountability if content posted on their sites causes harm — would be an issue that could “transcend parties” and unite people across the political spectrum in the 5th District.

I suppose that could be an issue that can unite people across the political spectrum in the 5th District, but Parker’s not going to be a uniting candidate. I mean, it’s one thing to say you’re running to restore decency and civility that’s “sorely lacking,” but it’s hard to square that with Parker’s actual history of blaming Republicans and Second Amendment activists for the actions of cold-blooded killers. Here’s what he wrote in the fall of 2015, for example.

Republican legislators across the country refuse to consider common sense measures to prevent the horrific gun violence that kills our loved ones each and every day. By refusing to act, they are aiding and abetting domestic terrorism.

Shame on them for being the cowards that they are. Is the support of a fringe element of the NRA so important that they are willing to accept our children as collateral damage? We are at war in this country, and we must win – whatever it takes.

… The Republican Party is in the pocket of the NRA. They are either too afraid of them or they like taking their money. Either way, they aren’t standing up to do something constructive to try and stop this.

This is domestic terrorism. The NRA and the Republican Party have blood on their hands.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary in the 5th Congressional District is going to face an uphill battle to win the seat in November. Not only are Republicans poised for a massive red wave election nationally this fall, but the 5th District is considered a pretty safe seat for Republicans. In 2020 Bob Good defeated Democrat Cameron Webb by about five points, and even in 2018’s blue wave election Republican Denver Riggleman vanquished Democrat Leslie Cockburn by a slightly higher margin. And under redistricting maps approved by the Virginia State Supreme Court, the 5th District is going to become even redder than it’s been in previous election cycles.

So, I’m not particularly concerned about Andy Parker’s chances of electoral success. If anything, I’m perplexed by his campaign strategy.

“My priority for running in this race is putting a stop to the abuse of social media,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t want people to go through the same thing I went through. I tried working this effort as a private citizen, and I think if I could do it as a member of Congress, even though I’d be one of 400-plus members, I’d have a better chance of getting something done.”

… Parker said he felt that he didn’t need to lead with his advocacy on gun safety as part of his congressional campaign because it’s essentially “baked in,” and voters could expect him to support legislation such as universal background checks in Congress. “People know that’s what I do,” he said. “I feel proud of my effort to help Virginia pass common-sense gun legislation.”

No offense to Andy Parker, but I think abuse of social media is pretty low in importance for most voters in the 5th District, and I say that as someone who’s so fed up with social media that I haven’t tweeted or posted on any platform in months. Then again, the less he talks about his support for gun control, the less explaining he has to do about statements like this.

Andy Parker said shooting assault weapons should be restricted to a gun range, and individuals should not own assault weapons, but rather users at gun ranges should just check out such weapons, like library books, and return them before leaving.

As for people expecting him to back more gun control proposals, I suppose for those who’ve actually heard of Parker that’s true, but my guess is he’s going to need to introduce himself to the voters of the 5th District, and while he can expect widespread sympathy for his daughter’s murder, I don’t expect that to translate into support for his anti-gun agenda once voters have had a chance to examine his record and rhetoric, especially if he’s going to try to mitigate his previous statements with stuff like this:

“I grew up in Texas. I was a hunter,” he said. “I believe in the right to bear arms, to protect your family, go hunting. I’m not a gun grabber.”

Here’s the thing. When you’re touting California’s gun control laws as the model for Virginia to follow, your claim of belief in the right to bear arms is laughable. What does the right to bear arms look like in California? You have to demonstrate some special need that justifies you carrying a firearm in self-defense, and that’s a far cry from the shall-issue standard (and permitless open carry) that’s the law in Virginia. Honestly, I don’t think Andy Parker can win the general no matter what he does, but trying to run as some sort of moderate on gun control is just insulting to the voters of the 5th District.

And frankly, it remains to be seen if Parker can even win his party’s primary. There are three other Democrats who’ve declared their own candidacies, and Charlottesville attorney Lewis Combs is currently leading the fundraising race. If gun control groups like Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety throw some Bloomberg bucks Parker’s way then this could be a much more competitive primary, but Parker’s positions on the Second Amendment make him a non-starter in the general.