On Sunday morning, I woke up to a news alert on my phone that notified me of what was soon to be named the worst mass shooting in US history. A wave of emotions washed over me that was so strong, I was unable to breathe easily. I was so stunned.
As a native Floridian, Orlando holds a special place in my heart. It's the place where my family and I made yearly pilgrimages to the "happiest place on earth," in order to come together and enjoy one another's company.
It's the place where – as a college student – I would road trip with my friends, in order to bask in the fantastical aura of the city. It's the place that connected me to my family, thanks to its international airport.
The list goes on.
A relatively large number of my close friends identify as gay and lesbian. Together, we frequent LGBTQ+ clubs, parties and gatherings.
When I moved to a town where I knew absolutely no one, the local LGBTQ+ club was one of the first places I felt welcome. I got to dance, converse and enjoy myself in a safe environment. Quite honestly, it's where I had some of my most epic dance-offs ever.
Like many across the country and the world, my heart is heavy. As we try to make sense of this senseless, unwarranted, evil act, there are voices calling for action from both ends of what now seems to be the age-old debate between gun control activists and gun rights aficionados.
Police and law enforcement officers stress the importance of adhering to the “see something, say something” policy. Although I'm wary of this approach, here's how I'm going to give it a try:
What I Have Seen
- We have seen our current president address the nation 14 times in light of the multiple mass shootings during his term. Six of these 14 times have occurred just this past year.
- We are living in a time where these tragedies have caused our president to tear up, and even categorize his remarks as predictable and routine, given how often mass shootings occur.
- The place, the people, the death toll and even the number of shooters change. But the weapons are the common denominator. People are killing people with guns that are – for the most part – obtained legally through loopholes in the system and lax policies.
- The NRA's sophisticated lobbying network is systematically designed to impede any form of gun control legislation. It has pushed to extend the right to carry concealed weapons. It has opposed any legislation that closes the loophole on unlicensed gun sellers being allowed to sell weapons without running background checks on the buyers. It has supported the Tiahrt Amendment, which makes it harder for law enforcement officials to crack down on illegally distributed and sold guns. It has lobbied for guns in schools, the workplace, bars and restaurants. It has opposed legislation that would prohibit the sale of guns to those on the federal government's terrorist watch list. The list goes on.
- In 2015 alone, more than 12,000 people have been killed by guns.
- There is too much money in politics for any real solutions to be put into place without a mass overhaul of rulings such as Citizens United.
- A horror as great as the Sandy Hook massacre – in which 20 children were slaughtered at their elementary school a mere four years ago – was still not enough to prompt any meaningful gun control legislation. Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter was killed at Sandy Hook, wrote, "I have one message for those families in Florida: I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I am sorry that our tragedy here in Sandy Hook wasn't enough to save your loved ones. I tried, and I won't stop trying."
What I Have To Say
- Through all these killings spewed by hate and intolerance, I have never felt as much love and unity as when I stood among my fellow brothers and sisters at Stonewall Inn, as well as when I saw my fellow citizens of the world standing together from all across the globe. Love is stronger than hate, and it will always prevail.
- Regardless of the shooter's background, religion or alleged connections, we, as a country, must do something to get assault weapons and guns out of the hands of individuals who have no business owning them.
- We need to put our differences aside and urge our lawmakers to pass a national gun control policy. Until then, none of us are safe.
- Find out who your representative is here, and see where these people stand on the issue. Let them know that we the people will no longer stand for this continuing mass violence against innocent lives.
My thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies go out to the victims, their families, their friends and the citizens of Orlando. Love is love is love is love. We are all Orlando, and we will not stand for this anymore.