Since the shooting at the Atlanta-area spas on March 16 where eight people were killed and one was injured, the U.S. has seen at least 50 mass shootings. This number continues trends from 2020 where gun violence remained high throughout the pandemic.
"It's sad that we've almost allowed ourselves to feel like violence is inevitable, especially against young people," Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and a leading gun reform advocate. "The reality is not that these things are impossible to solve. The reality is not that violence is inevitable because other countries have solved it. The reality is that we have allowed our leaders to get away with being not held accountable for their inaction to a place where we have instead normalized the violence instead of forcing them to take action."
On this week's episode of LGBTQ&A, Wolf speaks about what can be done to advance gun safety reform, his recent meeting with President Biden, and why the media needs to change how they cover mass shootings.
Jeffrey Masters: Why do you think the national media and politicians moved on so quickly from Pulse?
Brandon Wolf: Well, we were too gay and too brown for people to care. That's real. When we got up in front of a camera, people in our community, people in the central Florida community, got it because we're them and they were feeling it.
But when stood up in front of a camera and asked for action from our leaders, they didn't see their kids in us. We were in a dark, dirty nightclub, gay and brown and doing what we do. And it's easy for us to feel as other to them.
When I turned on Fox News, and it was not me, not people that looked like me, not people that looked like people in that club talking about Pulse, as if they knew our stories, as if they knew our pain and our struggle. Then I realized that if people did not step up from our community, the brown LGBTQ voices would be erased from the story. And they were for a long time. Our leaders in Tallahassee and in Congress did not take action after Pulse.
JM: Do you have any recommendations for how we cover mass shootings? They seem to command a shorter and shorter news cycle.
BW: I think it's difficult. I think we're in a really challenging position with how do we cover these things and not turn them into some circus. And I understood in that moment that the media had a role to play and that we had to have a relationship because if our stories were ever going to be told, we would need allies in the media.
But it's also important that we hold folks in the media accountable. And one of the ways we can do that is by not giving so much space and notoriety to the people who commit these atrocities and replace that coverage, those storylines with the people who lost their lives.
I would have loved to have seen more news coverage of my best friends than I did the shooter and his wife because in my mind, that's what's important. When we're telling the stories of people who are impacted, directly impacted by these acts of violence, that's when we're doing justice to the victims. When we're focusing solely on the drama and trying to say, "What was the motive and what do we know about this person? Where did they go to high school?" All of that is irrelevant to the fact that these people have legacies that they're leaving behind. And we can do justice by that, by sharing their stories.
JM: We're all getting numb to mass shootings and we've almost decided that there's nothing that can be done to change anything.
BW: It's so unfortunate. It's sad that we've almost allowed ourselves to feel like violence is inevitable, especially against young people. The reality is not that these things are impossible to solve. The reality is not that violence is inevitable because other countries have solved it. The reality is that we have allowed our leaders to get away with being not held accountable for their inaction to a place where we have instead normalized the violence instead of forcing them to take action.
JM: How are you feeling about the current state of gun reform? Are there small victories that we're not seeing?
BW: I would argue that they're big victories. Think about what candiates running for office able to say and not say about gun safety reform. It was not something that you could show up and talk about and create an issue around. And then think about 2018, and where gun safety reform lived in the conversation during a midterm election. These are folks who were in potentially conservative districts, who were really running to take back the house, and they did it in overwhelming fashion. Over 40 candidates backed by the NRA lost in the 2018 midterms. That's massive.
You think about the NRA today and it's practically bankrupt. So these wins I think are not small. They're large. I also think that gun safety reform has moved from being a partisan issue to being a generational issue where you have an entire generation of young people who have a totally different perspective on guns and gun safety than their parents because they live in a society where they don't know anything different than active shooter drills. They don't know anything different than Bulletproof backpacks and metal detectors at the doors.
That has shaped their perspective in a way that I think will create sweeping change sooner than people think.
This interview with Brandon Wolf was condensed from two interviews, one in November 2019 and one in April 2021.
LGBTQ&A is The Advocate's weekly interview podcast hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Past guests include Pete Buttigieg, Laverne Cox, Brandi Carlile, and Roxane Gay. Episodes come out every Tuesday.