On Monday morning, Americans woke to news that was both utterly horrifying and crushingly familiar: another senseless mass shooting had taken place — this time in Las Vegas — cutting short dozens of innocent lives and injuring hundreds of others, robbing victims’ families of their loved ones, and plunging the families, the survivors, and their communities into a grief and pain they never should have had to experience.
Sadly, it’s a pain that we in the LGBTQ community know all too well. Over 35,000 people are killed by guns every year, and LGBTQ people are more likely to be targets of hate crimes than any other minority group in America. Until this week’s massacre on the Vegas Strip, the single deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history was the one that took place on June 12, 2016 at Pulse in Orlando, Florida. On that terrible night, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of mostly black and brown queer people, killing 49 and injuring 53 more.
The Pulse shooting rocked the LGBTQ community to its core and spurred many of us to organize. Gays Against Guns came together to bring the same kind of powerful direct-action techniques deployed by our activist forebears during the AIDS crisis to the fight against America’s gun violence epidemic.
In the year since the Pulse massacre, GAGgers in D.C., New York, and across the country have named, blamed, and shamed the gun manufacturers whose profits depend on flooding our country’s streets with weapons of mass murder, pushers of gun violence like the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation that bribe and bully lawmakers into doing the gun industry’s bidding, and their puppet politicians who cash checks written in the blood of dead Americans. The work is energizing, fulfilling, and critically important — but it can also be daunting. We’re up against a powerful and well-funded gun lobby and caught in a vicious cycle of mass shootings that repeats itself with appalling regularity.
Perhaps more than any other single incident, the Las Vegas shooting shows the magnitude of what we’re against, and it’s almost too much to bear. A lone terrorist gunman, perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, sprayed bullets into a crowd of thousands who were gathered across the street for an outdoor music festival. Over the course of about ten minutes, he rained down death as people ran for cover and took shelter underneath dead bodies. As of this writing, 59 people are dead and more than 525 injured, making it the deadliest modern terror attack on American soil since 9/11.
The response to the Vegas shooting has played out according to a familiar, almost ritualistic script: Politicians offer meaningless “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families and communities, gun nuts flock to purchase even more lethal weapons, sanctimonious scolds try to shut down much-needed conversations about America’s deadly gun fetish with calls to refrain from “politicizing” the incident, and people take to social media in droves to express shock and disbelief. (“Why did this happen?” “When will it end?”) Lather, rinse, repeat.
But the truth is, we know why these things happen and we know exactly how to stop them. They happen because we, as a nation, have decided that mass shooting incidents are the price of freedom — that the risk of being gunned down in cold blood at school, at church, at the grocery store, on the baseball field, at a concert, or at a dance club is an acceptable part of living in this country. We have chosen to prioritize unfettered access to weapons of mass murder and profits for the gun industry over real flesh-and-blood human lives.
We also know that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. The bloodshed will only stop if and when we muster the collective will to pass common-sense gun reform legislation and restore sanity to our nation’s gun laws. Clear majorities of Americans support measures such as universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines — a small minority of gun hoarders, profiteers, cowardly politicians, and the NRA are quite literally holding our country hostage to their dangerous, ideological agenda. We outnumber them. We need to start acting like it.
And we need to act fast, because gun violence is killing us: Sunday night’s mass shooting was the 273rd such incident in the U.S. this year. Congressional Republicans have wasted no time paying back their NRA puppet masters — in February they passed, and President Trump signed into law, a bill that made it easier for people with mental illness to purchase a gun. And incredibly, the GOP still plans to vote this week on a package of bills that would allow gun owners to transport firearms across state lines and make it easier to purchase silencers and armor-piercing ammo.
We cannot allow this to stand. We must pound pavement, make phone calls, donate, write letters, and visit our legislators. We must insist that our lawmakers respond to the crisis — the epidemic — of gun violence. We must elect leaders who will make our streets safe from guns, and vote out those who have sold their souls to the NRA. The road may be long and hard, but the LGBTQ community has beaten greater odds before. We have never shied away from a fight, and we cannot shy away from this one. Our lives, and the lives of thousands of our fellow Americans, depend on it.
John Becker is a social media coordinator for Gays Against Guns DC. For more information, follow Gays Against Guns DC on Facebook.
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