The shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was — at one point in 2016 — the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. Having left 49 dead and 50 more injured, the stories from the Pulse shooting were as terrifying as they were heartbreaking. Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month, many of the teens who survived the tragedy have been using their resources to try and change gun laws both in Florida and throughout the country. Now, one of the survivors of Pulse has a message for the kids from Parkland: “I’m proud of you.”
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – FEBRUARY 17: People join together after a school shooting that killed 17 to protest against guns on the steps of the Broward County Federal courthouse on February 17, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Earlier this week former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire with a AR-15 rifle at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killing 17 people. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In an essay for CNN, activist and survivor Brandon J. Wolfe recounts how he had a chance to meet with the teens from Parkland recently. As a vocal supporter of gun legislation, Wolfe is a spokesperson for #noNRAMoney, an advocacy organization that presses elected officials and political candidates to reject the National Rifle Association. Wolfe’s advocacy was what gave him a chance to chat with the teen advocates.
“My most vivid memory of my time meeting these survivors was huddling together with them at a candlelight vigil, locked in a hug and shaking with tears,” Wolfe wrote. “They had just been through the unthinkable, and people were begging me to tell them what I know, given that I have some understanding of their experience.”
While Wolfe thought that his job at the vigil was to console and grieve alongside the survivors from Parkland, he realized it was less of an adult-teaches-kids moment, and more of a shared experience between victims of gun violence. “I managed five words [to the Parkland kids]: ‘I am proud of you,'” he recounted of the moment he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the students.
“And I am proud,” Wolfe continued. “Not just of their bravery and strength, but of their willingness to swallow their trauma and take on the powerful. I am proud of the Parkland students for finally demanding a response to the senselessness and lack of accountability for what pass as gun laws in this country.”
Wolfe also noted how much has changed in the few weeks since the students from Parkland became anti-gun advocates, noting that most major corporations who previously worked with the NRA have cut ties with them, not a small feat. And while the kids are working harder than many, Wolfe admits there’s a lot more that activists need to do, including truly stopping money from gun manufacturers to flow into congress.
“Politicians may be puppets for the NRA,” Wolfe accused, “but the NRA is a puppet for the nearly $40 billion American gun industry. I am working with the #noNRAMoney campaign to focus on a critical piece of this, asking politicians to pledge that they will refuse to take donations from the NRA and, because so much of the NRA’s power comes from voter mobilization, will also let constituents know they reject the NRA’s positions. Many have already signed on and the momentum is only growing.”
“‘When nothing less than freedom is at stake, we fight’ is the NRA’s tagline,” Wolfe concluded. “The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — and the millions of American standing behind them — are teaching the NRA exactly what those words really mean: Not the freedom to buy military grade weapons. Not the freedom to profit off the murder of innocent people. The freedom to walk our streets, school hallways, enjoy a concert, go to church. Freedom is the bedrock of American values. It’s time for us to do whatever we have to do to change the broken system. It’s time to fight back.”
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)