Scroll To Top

Mother of Pulse Victim Fights to Change Gun Laws (Video)

Christine Leinonen

Christine Leinonen's son was murdered at Pulse, and she is trying to prevent similar tragedies.

Christine Leinonen entered the national spotlight as the face of grief, a mother desperately seeking an update about her son's condition after he was killed at the Pulse nightclub shooting this summer. Now she wants to be an agent of change, and is taking on one of the nation's most prominent U.S. senators to do it.

The Pulse mother just cut an ad sharply criticizing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and endorsing his Democratic opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy. The central Florida voter makes clear what drove her to activism. "I want to unseat Marco Rubio because he is funded by gun manufacturers, he is against common-sense gun laws, and he is anti-LGBT," Leinonen tells The Advocate.

Leinonen lost her only child, Christopher Andrew "Drew" Leinonen, when Omar Mateen burst into the club with a recently purchased Sig Sauer MCX .223-caliber rifle and launched the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. The incident resulted in 50 deaths, including that of the shooter. Also among the lost were Drew and his boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero.

Christine Leinonen remains angry to this day about the long wait -- more than 33 hours -- before she was given confirmation of her son's death. But she's even more upset about the lack of response to the tragedy in Washington, D.C. After she unwillingly became part of a the growing network of families affected by mass shootings, Leinonen met parents of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims who testified before Congress about the need for stricter gun laws. "They would fly to Congress to beg them to change the gun laws, and senators would stare at them with cold-filled hearts," Leinonen recalls. She decided on a different course of action -- if politicians could not be moved by tears, they could be removed.

Before the shooting, Leinonen was never involved in politics, but her son was, and she picked up his cause. This summer, Leinonen accepted an invitation to speak at the Democratic National Convention, where she eloquently called for common-sense gun laws and endorsed Hillary Clinton. She also became a board member for the Pride Fund to End Violence and in August endorsed Murphy, who supports expanding background checks and cosponsored a bill to keep weapons away from domestic terrorists.

Leinonen became one of Murphy's strongest surrogates and is now the subject of his "Heart" advertisement, released October 17, the day of Rubio and Murphy's first debate. "After Christine lost her son at Pulse, Senator Rubio never found the courage to stand with her," Murphy says. "Marco Rubio went back to Washington and stood with the gun lobby." Leinonen levels a similar attack in the ad: "I cannot understand how Marco Rubio would go back to Washington, D.C., and do nothing."

Leinonen attended the first debate, where Murphy, from the stage, called her "one of the bravest people I have ever met."

At the debate, Rubio acknowledged the shooting as a tragedy but pivoted to terrorism instead of gun control. "What happened in Pulse was not a random act of violence; it was a terrorist attack by a jihadist who has pledged allegiance to ISIS," he said. Rubio did note he was sponsoring legislation that would require that if anyone investigated for connections to terrorism in the past decade -- as Mateen was three times -- tried to buy a gun, the sale would be suspended and the FBI would be notified and empowered to arrest the individual.

Of course, Leinonen's problems with Rubio run deeper than gun control. Noting the senator's opposition to same-sex marriage, she says Clinton will need allies to preserve LGBT rights. "It's very important we get more Democrats in the Senate so you can get a Supreme Court justice who is not going to overturn marriage equality," she says. She also notes that Florida is one of the states where employers can still fire an employee for being gay. While Rubio was among the few Republicans to say the Pulse was an attack on gay Americans, he boasts one of the most anti-LGBT records in the Senate.

In addition to her political activism, Leinonen and friends of her son have launched the Dru Project to encourage the creation of more gay-straight alliances in schools, and she flies around the country advocating for the cause. It's a continuation of her son's activism; he won an Anne Frank Humanitarian Award for creating a GSA in his high school.

"Christopher's death dictates that as long as I have a voice, I am obligated to use it," Leinonen says. "I can't do anything to undo what happened to him. But I am now his advocate and Juan's advocate and an advocate of the 47 others who died and the 53 that were injured. I have that obligation now, whether I wanted it or didn't want it."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Jacob Ogles