I will never forget the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, when I survived the hateful, targeted shooting at Pulse Nightclub and lost two of my best friends.
Pulse was a safe space for us. It was a place where I could hold hands with someone I had a crush on without looking over my shoulder first. It was a place where we could dance, laugh and sing without fear of discrimination. Pulse was safe – until it wasn’t.
As I was washing my hands at a bathroom sink, a hate-filled man armed with a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle charged through the front door of the club and opened fire. Before he was done, he had emptied more than 110 rounds into the dark building and killed 49 mostly LGBTQ people of color and injured 53 others. My best friends have been shot 19 times. One had to be identified on an operating table. The other never left the dance floor.
Unfortunately, these shootings and painful memories are not unique to me or to the victims and survivors of Pulse. Hate and bigotry are at a fever pitch right now, especially here in Florida, with politicians like former President Donald Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis and others using dehumanizing and bigoted rhetoric to stoke right-wing fervor. This fiery hatred coupled with this country’s obsession with easy access to guns is deadly, as we have seen in Buffalo, El Paso and far too many other communities.
Six years have passed since the Pulse shooting and in December it will be 10 years since 26 children and teachers were killed at Sandy Hook. Despite the outrage that occurs after these tragedies, they continue because of the inaction of politicians – politicians like Marco Rubio. The cycle repeats itself in America. Armed violence erupts. A community is broken. Those affected call for help. Families bury their loved ones. And leaders like Senator Rubio sit on their hands, content to offer little more than empty thoughts and empty prayers.
After the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Senator Chris Murphy walked into the Senate and asked, “Why? Why are we here? If not to try to get fewer schools and fewer communities to go through what Sandy Hook went through. What Uvalde is going through.
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We need senators who will actually fight for Floridians and work to make our communities safer — not to make money for the gun lobby.
Because we have made incredible strides in normalizing the conversation about common sense gun safety reforms and dismantling the propaganda of the gun lobby, change is more possible than ever. The leaders have broad public support for bold actions to end the epidemic of gun violence. In 2018 and 2020, Democrats were able to shamelessly run on a platform of bold gun safety policy proposals — and win.
Following the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, I have had so many conversations with friends and family members who want these endless tragedies to end, but fear that our leaders cannot or will do nothing to stop them. . They want politicians to do something to make us safer. I’m here to say we know what works to reduce gun violence; we just need leaders with the courage to act.
Common sense policies for our leaders to consider include:
- Universal background checks: This is supported by the majority of Americans and NRA members, and it is one of the most basic steps we can take to ensure gun safety.
- Disarm hate: The Disarm Hate Act would prohibit people convicted of hate crimes from owning firearms.
- Extreme Risk Protection Orders: Legislation can help ensure that each state has a process for keeping guns away from those who pose a threat to themselves or others.
- Increase age: The Raise the Age Act raises the age for purchasing assault rifles from federally licensed dealers from 18 to 21.
- Prohibit large capacity magazines: The Keep Americans Safe Act would ban high-capacity magazines — devices that allow a shooter to continue firing for longer periods of time, increasing casualties.
Now is the time to act. We must demand that our leaders act urgently to make this time different. And we need to elect gun safety champions with bold visions, champions who will deliver on their campaign promises.
Our communities, our children, our country cannot wait any longer. How many lives must be lost for Congressional Republicans to put people before profits and take action?
Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, is a spokesperson for Equality Florida.