The incompetence of the local police response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary has drawn attention to the inadequacy of police for stopping gun violence. We speak with Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where police took three hours to respond after an emergency call, and 13 people may have bled to death during that time. “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.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
As police in Uvalde, Texas, face harsh questions and a federal investigation into how they apparently waited almost an hour to get a key from a janitor before moving in to kill the shooter, other survivors of mass shootings have been speaking out about the pattern of delays. Our next guest, Brandon Wolf, survived the second-worst gun massacre in recent U.S. history, when a gunman opened fire on the dance floor of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We’re coming up on the sixth anniversary. It was June 12th, 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 scenes of the terror inside the club.
JANIEL GONZALEZ: He just kept on shooting and shooting and shooting and just walking around.
REPORTER: Was it rapid fire? Was it single shots?
JANIEL GONZALEZ: No, it was rapid fire. It was 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: That was six years ago. Many of those killed were young Latinx members of the LGBTQ community. Survivors say they faced a three-hour wait for police to respond and that some of those who died may have lived if they had gotten help sooner. Now as the Pulse nightclub attack’s sixth anniversary approaches, survivors held a vigil for the victims of the Uvalde massacre.
For more, we go to Orlando to speak to Brandon Wolf, Pulse nightclub massacre survivor, now a gun safety and LGBTQ civil rights advocate. He is now press secretary for Equality Florida. He wrote a 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 you that night? And then talk about when you heard about what happened in Uvalde and what you think needs to happen.
BRANDON WOLF: Yeah, I appreciate that. It is really painful to go through this over and over 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. And so, my heart breaks for folks in Uvalde, their families, their friends, who will never be the same.
I was washing my hands at a bathroom sink when gunshots rang out at Pulse nightclub. And it’s important to note that Pulse was one of the safest places I knew. For LGBTQ people and especially LGBTQ people of color, there are not safe spaces in the same way that there are for others. For me, growing up, home was not always a safe space. Church was certainly not a safe space. School was not always a safe space. And so, we created safe spaces for one another. Pulse was one of those spaces where I felt like I could be me, without fear of violence or discrimination. Then, of course, that safe space was invaded.
The man who perpetrated that violent and heinous act at Pulse was carrying a SIG Sauer MCX. It’s been referred to as the AR-15 of the future. He fired over 110 rounds into the club. And it took us over 36 hours to learn the fate of my best friends Drew and Juan, but, ultimately, they took 19 of those rounds. One died on an operating table, and the other never made it off the dance floor.
And so, my initial thought or reaction to what happened in Texas is heartbreak, but also anger and rage, because no one should have to live through what I lived through six years ago. And it begs the question that I asked in that Oprah Daily piece: What are we doing? Why haven’t we been able to solve this? Why are we so paralyzed by the gun lobby and gun manufacturers in this country? 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”? We should be able to send our children to school so they can learn math and reading and science, not so they practice hiding under their desks, all so that one day a man can charge through the front door and end it all.
This country has to have a really hard, tough, honest conversation about its obsession with easy access to firearms. And I think we need to hold our lawmakers accountable in different 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. Was there ever any analysis afterward of how the responders, the police and law enforcement, responded that night at the nightclub?
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. They focused their investigation on whether or not police officers inadvertently shot and killed people as they were shooting indiscriminately inside the club. They determined that all of those who passed away were killed by gunfire from the gunman himself. 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, that same report that came out, that internal investigation, showed that 13 people died in the bathrooms of Pulse nightclub during that three-hour wait. Those 13 people were being held by their friends and cousins and other family members as they bled out on the floor. And police had a litany of reasons or excuses why they didn’t go into the building.
But I think it underscores a couple of things. First and foremost, we have a significant 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 I think it also raises this other question, which is: Why are we continuing to focus our efforts on what happens when a shooter is already inside 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 industrialized country in the world where this happens. 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 logical fallacy. The data tells us 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, we just have a minute. You’re in Florida, where the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation was passed. We are seeing book bans around the country, lifting of gun bans and imposition of abortion bans. Your comment?
BRANDON WOLF: It’s absurd. It’s outrageous. And it again begs the question: What are we even doing right now? These right-wing politicians have been shoving an agenda down our throats for over a year now. 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 number one cause of death for American children. That is a crisis. It is a public health crisis. And instead of focusing on these culture war bogeymen that are helping them climb the political ladder, these politicians should be focused on keeping our kids alive, on sending them to school so they can thrive, not simply on helping themselves reach the next political destination.
AMY GOODMAN: Brandon Wolf, we thank you again for being with us, Pulse nightclub massacre survivor, now a gun safety advocate, an 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.