The incompetent response of Robb Elementary’s police to the mass shooting has brought attention to the inadequacy in police’s ability to stop gun violence. Brandon Wolf, a survivor in the 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando (Florida), speaks with us. Police took three hours responding to an emergency call. 13 people may have died. “We have to be honest about stopping gun violence before it erupts in the halls of our school, instead of waiting to assess whether or not police officers responded in the right way once it’s over,” says Wolf, who is now a gun control and LGBTQ Rights advocate
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Police in Uvalde (Texas) are facing harsh questions and a federal probe into how they waited nearly an hour to obtain a key from the janitor before moving to kill the shooter. Other survivors of mass shootings have spoken out about the pattern. Brandon Wolf, our next guest, survived the second-worst gun attack in recent U.S. History, when a gunman opened flames on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. We’re coming up on the sixth anniversary. It was June 12, 2016. Brandon’s best friend Drew was among the 49 people killed in the attack, which came in the middle of Pride Month. Witnesses described the terror inside the club.
JANIEL GONZALEZ: He just kept going shooting and shooting and walking around.
REPORTER: Was it fast? It was a single shot?
JANIEL GONZALEZ: It was rapid fire. It was almost like brrrrrr. And then he’d like change, put another ammunition, brrrrrrrr, and then change, put another ammunition. And I could just smell the ammo in the air, and I was like, “This is a gun. This isn’t fireworks. Like, we need to leave.”
AMY GOODMAN: It was six years ago. Many of those killed were young Latinx people. LGBTQ community. Survivors claim that they were forced to wait three hours for police to arrive and that some of the victims may have survived if they had sought help sooner. Now as the Pulse nightclub attack’s sixth anniversary approaches, survivors held a vigil for the victims of the Uvalde massacre.
We travel to Orlando to talk to Brandon Wolf, Pulse massacre survivor and now a gun safety advocate. LGBTQ civil rights advocate. He is now Equality Florida’s press secretary. He wrote the following: piece for Oprah Daily after the Uvalde massacre headlined “Gun Violence in America Is a Solvable Crisis. So Why Haven’t We Stopped It?”
Brandon, first I’m going to say condolences, because we haven’t spoken, and I am sure you relive this all the time. Where were your thoughts that night? Then, talk about the night you heard about Uvalde and what you think should happen.
BRANDON WOLF: Yes, that is what I appreciate. It’s really hard to go through this again and again. And it’s always especially painful when we’re talking about children, because the last six years have been really hard for those of us in the community, especially those who lost someone. My heart breaks for Uvalde residents, their families and their friends. They will never be the exact same.
When I was washing my hands in a sink at the bathroom, gunshots rang out from Pulse nightclub. And it’s important to note that Pulse was one of the safest places I knew. For LGBTQ People and especially LGBTQ For people of color, there is not the same safe space as there is for other people. Growing up, my home was not always a safe place. Church was definitely not a safe place. School was not always a safe place. So, we created safe spaces together. Pulse was a safe space where I felt I could be myself, without fear or discrimination. That safe space was then invaded.
The man who committed the heinous and violent act at Pulse was armed with a weapon. SIG Sauer MCX. It’s been referred to as the AR-15 of the future. He fired more than 110 rounds into the club. We had to wait over 36 hours before we learned the fates of Drew and Juan. However, they did take 19 rounds. One of them died on the operating table and the other didn’t make it onto the dance floor.
So, my first reaction to Texas’s events was heartbreak. But anger and rage also came to mind. Because no one should have to go through what I went through six years ago. It begs the question I asked in my Oprah Daily piece: “What are we doing?” Why haven’t we been able to solve this? Why are we so paralyzed and dominated by the gun lobby in this country and gun manufacturers? Why are we so paralyzed by the sort of rhetoric and talking points that have frozen us, that we can’t just sit at a table and say, “Our kids deserve better”? Our children should be able go to school to learn math, science, and reading. Not so that they hide under their desks so that one day a man will walk through the front door and take it all down.
This country needs to have a hard, tough, and honest conversation about its obsession for easy access to firearms. We need to hold our legislators accountable in new and more creative ways. It’s not enough for them to sit there in a press conference and tell us that they’re working on it. They’ve been working on it for decades, maybe even centuries, and it’s not working. And it’s time for us to ask for something different.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Brandon, in addition to the issue of the paralysis of our leaders in terms of gun safety, this issue of the response of the police, the 78 minutes that transpired in Uvalde before the police actually shot the gunman — there was an even longer response time at the Pulse nightclub. Did there ever exist any analysis of the response of the police and law enforcement to the nightclub incident?
BRANDON WOLF: There was. And I’ll say I think it has left people wholly unsatisfied. There was an investigation done by the State Attorney’s Office. The investigation focused on whether police officers accidentally shot and killed people while they were shooting randomly inside the club. All of the victims were killed by gunfire from their gunman. But they didn’t dive deeply into whether or not anyone should be held accountable for the inordinate amount of wait that people had to suffer before police breached the building. In fact, the same report, which was an internal investigation, revealed that 13 people died in the bathroom of Pulse nightclub’s Pulse nightclub after a three-hour wait. As they lay on the floor bleeding, those 13 people were being held by cousins and friends. And police had a litany of reasons or excuses why they didn’t go into the building.
But it does emphasize a few points. We have a serious problem. If we have been dealing with this now for decades, and police forces, law enforcement agencies across the country don’t have a functional response yet to how they address mass violence in schools or nightclubs or grocery stores or churches or all the other places that this is happening, we have a serious problem. At the very least, you would think that law enforcement agencies would be speaking to one another, that they’d be able to solve the basic struggles of when to go in, how to go in, what gear that they need in order to safely go through the front doors and take care of what needs to be taken care of.
But it raises another question. Why are we focusing our efforts on what to do if a shooter has already entered the building? If we continue to double down on this idea that, you know, we need more armed security, we need more police officers at more checkpoints, then we’ve already resigned ourselves to the fact that gun violence is inevitable in this country. And we know it’s not. This is the only country with an industrialized economy in the world that does this. We have more guns per capita than any other country on Earth, and it’s not even close. So this idea that more guns make us safer and that we’ve just got to wait and make sure that police officers have the right tools and resources to be able to respond, it’s simply not working. It is a logic fallacy. The data shows otherwise. We have to be honest about stopping gun violence before it erupts in the halls of our school, instead of waiting to assess whether or not police officers responded in the right way once it’s over.
AMY GOODMAN: Brandon, let’s just take a minute. You’re in Florida, where the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation was passed. We are seeing book banning across the country, including lifting gun bans. Your opinion?
BRANDON WOLF: It’s absurd. It’s outrageous. It is outrageous. Since over a decade, right-wing politicians have been trying to force an agenda on us. They’ve told us that the greatest threats our kids face are that they might learn that this country was built on the backs of enslaved Black people or that their teacher uses they/them pronouns. And all along, we know what’s actually killing kids. Gun-related injuries are the leading cause of death among American children. This is a crisis. It is a crisis of public health. Instead of focusing their attention on the culture war bogeymen helping them climb up the political ladder, they should be focusing instead on keeping our kids alive, sending them off to school so they can thrive, and not on helping themselves get to the next political destination.
AMY GOODMAN: Brandon Wolf, we want to thank you again for being here. Pulse nightclub massacre survivor. Now a gun safety advocate. LGBTQ Civil rights advocate, press secretary for Equality Florida
In 30 seconds, when we come back, we go to Colombia to learn about the presidential election that’s leading into a runoff. Stay with us.