Marching in the Los Angeles Pride Parade is an experience unlike any other. The first few years I marched, the atmosphere was jubilant and attendees reveled in each other’s company during a weekend full of concerts, vibrant nightlife and culture.
But two years ago, the mood was dramatically altered, for tragedy had intervened. The night before the 2016 parade in West Hollywood, a gunman opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 more. It was an act of terrorism, and it was the deadliest mass shooting incident to ever target LGBT individuals in the United States. At the time, it was also the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, tragically overtaken by the shooting in Las Vegas a year later.
The Pulse nightclub shooting was shocking and horrific, and it profoundly affected the spirit of Pride across the country. There was also a great deal of uncertainty — we weren’t sure if the Los Angeles Pride Parade was a target. At the beginning of our parade, we united for a moment of silence, resolved that we would work together to demand congressional action on commonsense gun safety measures.
Last year’s Pride festival also differed from past celebrations. In that first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, we came together to speak out against the president’s hateful rhetoric and actions, especially those targeting LGBT Americans. Instead of a Pride Parade, we led a Resist March and rallied together to try to change the direction of our country.
Since last year, much has changed and much has, tragically, stayed the same. We still have a president who thrives on chaos and division, and puts the tenets of our democratic system to the test on a daily basis. Perhaps the only positive development: Millions of Americans who have never been politically active are engaging like never before.
Many of these new, passionate activists are from a younger generation. Some of the most powerful new leaders were borne of yet another gun tragedy. In February, 17 students and faculty were killed in another horrific school shooting – this one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In the aftermath, young survivors of the shooting and young people across the nation have stepped up to say: ENOUGH. They are rightly fed up with the lack of meaningful action from elected officials—across the country, at every level – in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and our entire society.
Parents are now forced to have difficult conversations with their kids about whether they will be safe at school. How horrifying to see the footage of a young survivor at the recent shooting in Santa Fe, Texas explain that yes, she fully expected such a nightmare to take place at her school. Something must change.
And something is. Young people are changing the conversation about gun violence. They have launched a movement to change minds, to change laws, and to force adults to reckon with the effect that weak gun laws have had on our country. And they are just getting started – this month, Parkland students are launching a nationwide bus tour to register young voters.
I hope these brave students, and those they mobilize, will make a real difference. So much depends on it. And while no one law can prevent all mass shootings, we still must try. Here is where we can start:
First, Congress must pass universal background checks, a policy supported by nearly 90 percent of the American people, including the vast majority of gun owners.
Second, we must reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban. This law was one of the most effective means of taking these weapons of war off the streets, and Congress shamefully allowed it to expire in 2004 to the delight of the National Rifle Association.
Third, we must stop ascribing mass shootings only to mental illness. The NRA and its congressional allies use this tactic to avoid talking about the role guns play in these tragedies. Addressing mental health is important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. We must do everything we can to increase access to mental health services and reduce the stigma of mental illness, but slavishly blaming mental illness for gun violence only stigmatizes it further, and makes it harder for those that need help to seek it.
Finally, we must end the gun industry’s special immunity from lawsuits. I’ve introduced legislation that would pierce the gun industry’s liability shield by putting an end to the special protections that gun manufacturers, sellers and interest groups receive when they shirk their fundamental responsibility to act with reasonable care for the public safety. Victims of gun violence deserve their day in court.
No single step is a cure-all, but together they can create real change. We need your help. Call your representatives and senators at 202-224-3121 and demand they take action. Vote in local, state and federal elections for officials that will fight the scourge of gun violence by passing gun safety reform measures. Fight against the NRA and its allies, which try to stifle this agenda.
Every year I look forward to celebrating Pride in Los Angeles. This year, we once again march for safety, inclusion and equality. We continue to celebrate our LGBT community and its allies, and actively support the thousands of young people dedicated to creating real and lasting change. There is a lot of work to be done. I hope you’ll join me.
This piece originally appeared in the Los Angeles Blade.