Two weeks ago in Orlando, Florida, a gunman opened fire in Pulse, a gay nightclub, on its Latin theme night, killing 49 people. It was deemed the worst mass shooting in American history. The circumstances seemed devastatingly familiar to me. I woke up to the news on my iPhone, a bulletin from Reuters news service about the shooting and the staggering number of casualties.
I wanted to wake up again without having seen the bulletin, without it having happened. I woke up that Sunday morning after having been out with my friends the night before, in New York City, and I didn’t want to think about the different fate of the nightclub goers at Pulse.
I willed myself to read more of what happened that night in Florida. Every time I thought I couldn’t read a worse detail, a gut-wrenching one emerged, one right after another. I found out that the average age of the victims was 22, exactly my own. I know what it’s like to be young and to just want to live and have fun with friends.
Pulse was a place of celebration but also a place of refuge, a safe haven in a country that still has a long way to go in terms of gay rights and acceptance. The victims felt comfortable at Pulse, enough to relax and let loose as any young person should. I think of Orlando and I think of magic and fairy tale castles, an illusion that for many has come crumbling down in the wake of this tragedy.
My connection to the Orlando shootings felt close and personal because I was in Paris when the mass shooting broke out last November. It was a Friday night, my first week back in my favorite city, and I was out with a huge group of friends for a birthday celebration, dancing and having fun.
But around midnight, I found myself dialing my family back home in New Jersey with trembling fingers. I wanted to let them know that I was okay, because all over Paris that night and only minutes from where my friends and I were out, gunmen had opened fire on multiple targets and were still on the rampage, streaking the city of light and love in blood.
My friends and I spent the rest of that night on lockdown, huddled inside a restaurant, fearful of walking outside to go home. Then we struggled our way through the dark to a home on the city’s outskirts, spending a restless night crammed on the couch. We watched the news reports in horror. We didn’t really want to, but we couldn’t look away.
I think the real shock of it all, and what remained even after the memorials, after the blood had been washed off the streets, was that the assault went way beyond the death toll. It was an attack on culture, on values, and a beautiful, young, and carefree lifestyle that defines Paris.
My time in Paris had been the happiest in my life because of the music, the food, and the people, my friends, and that’s why the attacks in November were so devastating. A concert hall, a soccer stadium, and a corner restaurant were the targets, all places I’ve frequented and where I could easily have been that night, and the victims — in Paris as well as in Orlando — all I can say is there but for the grace of God.
In the days following the massacre in Orlando, the optimists thought this might finally mark the turning point in this country’s gun control regulations. I watched as experts weighed in and presidential candidates spoke out, but I was not hopeful.
I was a sophomore in college when 20 first graders were gunned down at school in Newtown, Connecticut. The Sandy Hook killings, to me, signified an unfathomable tragedy, and surely the impetus for change in legislation. But since then, nothing has changed at a federal level, and in fact, according to news sources, since that awful December day three years ago, another 555 children under the age of 12 have been killed by guns — intentionally or accidentally.
This week the Senate voted on four separate gun control measures, and none of them passed. Gun control has become such a bipartisan, politicized issue that it has become virtually impossible to make any progress. I’m starting to take politicians less and less seriously when they sensationalize these tragedies that have become a sad part of our country’s identity. It’s a seriously sick case of deja vu. How many times will tragedy strike, turn into public outrage, only to have the door closed on any kind of change?
A gridlocked government and a racist presumptive presidential nominee are symptoms of a broken system. There are ways to implement gun control without infringing upon an individual’s freedom. Ask Australia, a country where gun licenses are required and rules are enforced, a nation that has taken effective action to save its citizens from the horrors of gun violence. Twenty years ago, a gunman opened fire on tourists, killing 35 people and wounding another 23.
The Australian government acted quickly and decisively and only 12 days later, enacted strict gun control measures through a bipartisan agreement. I’ll say that again — through a BIPARTISAN agreement. In that time, though there have been sporadic episodes of gun violence, Australia has not experienced another mass shooting and overall gun violence has decreased by 50 percent.
If the Australians can put aside their bipartisan bickering for the greater good of its people, why can’t we? Isn’t that what our Founding Fathers would have wanted? That their intent with the Constitution’s right to bear arms did not include the use of assault rifles on civilians? I would think they would have been much wiser than that, and today’s politicians should take a cue from that thought.