We speak with Manuel Oliver, co-founder of the gun reform group Change the Ref, about Tuesday’s mass shooting at an elementary school that left 19 children and two adults dead in Uvalde, Texas. Oliver is the father of Joaquin, one of the 17 students killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He encourages those closely affected by Tuesday’s shooting to channel their grief into action on gun control, and calls on celebrities to commit to the fight.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we end today’s show with Manuel Oliver, Manny Oliver, father of Joaquin, one of 17 students killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He’s an artist. He’s an activist. He’s never stopped that activism since his Guac was killed. By chance, he was in El Paso painting a mural against gun violence in 2019 when a far-right gunman carried out a mass shooting at the Walmart store there, killing 23 people, most of them Latinx. Yesterday it was Uvalde.
Manny, I want to just say our condolences again and again to you — you’re co-founder of the gun reform group Change the Ref — because I am sure, for you, this never stops. Can you respond to what happened yesterday, to what Senator Murphy is saying, your call to what you think needs to happen now?
MANUEL OLIVER: Sure. Thank you for having me on your show. It’s always a pleasure.
What happened yesterday, it’s not a surprise to me. What Murphy is doing, it is a surprise to me. I know Murphy personally. I know that he stands along with us in this fight, but it’s time to speak out to all his colleagues in Senate and Congress and do things like what he did yesterday. That’s why we elected these people, to do what he did.
Now, it was not for them to wait for 19 people to die, 19 kids, babies, to die, so they can take action, because we’ve been trying to put things together since the last five years. What they are doing today, we have done it every single day, without resting, trying to prevent this from happening. We talked to the president, members of Congress and Senate. And now you see how now they’re paying attention. So, I don’t see what’s going to happen after this. I still don’t believe until I see results. In the meantime, we’re going to keep on doing what we do best, which is fighting back gun violence.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Manny, I wanted to ask you — there have been over 27 school shootings in the United States in just the five months of this year. And we’re seeing also an alarming increase in suicides among young people between the ages of 10 and 24, increased 42% over the last decade, according to a recent report. Can you talk about the — I raised this to an earlier guest today — the NRA and the gun manufacturing industry focusing on young people, on marketing their products to young people?
MANUEL OLIVER: I think there are new demographics that are feeling attracted to guns. However, this is a result of that not having any restriction. This is the only industry in America, the land of restrictions, that actually has no restriction at all: the gun industry. So, they have the ability to put their products in the hands of whoever they want.
I also have to say that school shootings represent probably less than 2% of gun violence in America. But regardless that stat, we always react in a more shocking way, because now we’re talking about kids. But this is a usual life in the United States. A hundred people, 110-12 people will die today after that shooting yesterday. And the gun industry seems to not be concerned about it. They’re going to keep on moving on. And politicians who actually depend on them for their campaigns will also support those ideas. So it’s a hard battle, and it’s going to take way more than what we have done so far.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I also wanted to ask you about the remarks that were made by one of the most famous basketball coaches yesterday, Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors. Golden State was playing the Dallas Mavericks in Texas. And I think we may have a tape of it. Yes, if we can, let’s go to the tape of Steve Kerr talking not about basketball but about what happened there in Texas.
STEVE KERR: Since we left shootaround, 14 children were killed 400 miles from here, and a teacher. And in the last 10 days, we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo. We’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California. And now we have children murdered at school.
When are we going to do something? I’m tired. I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m so tired of the — excuse — I’m sorry. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough!
There’s 50 senators right now who refuse to vote on H.R. 8, which a background check rule that the House passed a couple years ago. It’s been sitting there for two years. And there’s a reason they won’t vote on it: to hold onto power. So, I ask you, Mitch McConnell, I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings, I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers? Because that’s what it looks like. It’s what we do every week.
So, I’m fed up. I’ve had enough. We’re going to play the game tonight. But I want every person here, every person listening to this, to think about your own child or grandchild or mother or father or sister, brother. How would you feel if this happened to you today? We can’t get numb to this. We can’t sit here and just read about it and go, “Well, let’s have a moment of silence. Yeah. Go, Dubs!” You know? “Come on, Mavs! Let’s go!” That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go play a basketball game.
And 50 senators in Washington are going to hold us hostage. Do you realize that 90% of Americans, regardless of political party, want background check, universal background check? Ninety percent of us. We are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote despite what we the American people want. They won’t vote on it because they want to hold onto their own power. It’s pathetic! I’ve enough!
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, talking in Dallas, Texas, last night before the game with the Dallas Mavericks. Manny, your response to Steve Kerr’s plea to the nation?
MANUEL OLIVER: I texted Steve last night. We are friends. We know each other. He did the right thing. Steve lost his dad from gun violence, so he knows exactly what this means for a lot of people. And he just did what a regular human being will do. We are used to keep on going and then watch a game. That’s it. That’s how the majority of Americans live their lives. We are very arrogant to think that we are making a mistake. But we are making a huge mistake here. And Steve Kerr decided to stop that comfort zone for millions of Americans and say, “You know what? This is what’s going on out there, outside of the court. We are killing each other. And you should know that.” And that is more important than anything right now.
So, I would love to have celebrities and influencers doing the same thing. And they were at some point involved. I remember almost five years ago when in Washington we had a lot of Hollywood faces and performers and singers and rappers, and everyone was there, like, getting involved as a big movement. And now you don’t see them. This is not something where you show your face once in a while to get more followers. This is something that is not over. It’s actually worse than five years ago. So this is a big call to all those faces: Guys, it’s not over. This is actually the beginning of the fight. Get involved. And it’s not about your money; it’s about your potential words and how many people you can reach.
AMY GOODMAN: Manny, as you said, Steve Kerr, the coach’s father, Malcolm Kerr, was murdered in Lebanon in 1984. He was the president of American University in Beirut. But, Manny, I wanted to ask you about your message to the parents. You’re a parent who’s lost a son yourself. They were there at the Civic Center for hour upon hour. These guns are so powerful, these semiautomatic weapons, that when their kids were shot — apparently it’s just one class of fourth graders that were gunned down with their teachers. He was holed up in that space, the shooter. They had to wait hours to give DNA because the kids are unrecognizable — the power of these weapons. We still don’t know exactly if this is the exact number. Can you give a message to them? And also, talk about what the Parkland survivors did, people like David Hogg, who we had you on with him last time, Emma González and others, who, from the second this happened, demanded change.
MANUEL OLIVER: Well, the story is a little different in terms of the victims, because what happened in Parkland, it happened to a generation that was ready to go ahead and speak out, very vocal, very rebel, teenagers, most of them. So, they had that energy to go ahead and take everything by their own hands. That is not possible here, because we’re talking about babies. We’re talking about very young kids.
What the parents did, including myself, is totally something that we had no idea. We waited. Don’t ask me how I was able to survive those initial moments, those initial weeks and months, understanding or trying to convince myself that I lost my son and I won’t be able to hug him ever again.
Now, my only advice at this point — which I’m not in any position to give advices to anyone that has lost a kid, because I don’t do that; we all have our own personal way of reacting — is to take advantage of the media right now. Whoever is in that city has access to the media to send a message, of pain, of anger, of motivation, of whatever helps for all of us to solve this problem.
And the reason why I call for that is that those cameras won’t be there for long, because that’s part of the problem. We have a template. And those — the coverage of this shooting will last probably for the next week, and then we jump to the next one. So, this is our sad reality. And we need to change the reality as a big picture. This is not about video games. This is not about mental health. That happens all around the planet. This is about guns and easy access to guns. Whoever defers that is wrong and is not understanding where the problem is.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Manuel Oliver, we only have about 30 seconds, but I’m wondering, in terms of — were you able to effect, if not at the national level, at the state level in Florida, after the Parkland shooting, some changes in gun policy?
MANUEL OLIVER: We got changes in the opposite way. Now we have Ron DeSantis as the governor, who is planning to leave us, before getting out of the office, an open-carry law. So, God bless us, unless we get rid of this guy, which I’m planning to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Manuel Oliver, our love to Patricia, your wife. Manny is co-founder of the gun reform group Change the Ref, father of Guac, Joaquin, one of 17 people killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this story, what’s happening in Congress, what’s happening in Texas, and what’s happening around the world. Families have begun sharing the names of the victims, and we’ll end with their names again, as we started: Xavier Lopez, 10; Jose Flores, 10; Uziyah Garcia, 9; Amerie Jo Garza, 10; Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10; and two fourth grade teachers.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Cam Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon, Juan Carlos Dávila. Our executive director, Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley.