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Emma Gonzalez on Pulse, Arming Teachers and an Assault Weapons Ban


After stunning the world at the March for Our Lives rally, the out survivor talks next steps.

Days after federal prosecutors dismissed the notion that a shooter knew Pulse was a gay nightclub before attacking it, Parkland, Fla., survivor Emma Gonzalez says she has no doubt the shooting was among many targeting LGBT people. "Pulse was most definitely, in part, a hate crime," says Gonzalez. "You can call it a terrorist attack as much as you want depending on the shooter's religious beliefs, but that was a gay nightclub. He could have gone anywhere."

Gonzalez offered the assessment during an interview with The Advocate. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior has traveled the country demanding that gun control measures be put in place following a February shooting that left 17 dead at her school. And as president of the Gay Straight Alliance on her campus, she says the 2016 shooting at Pulse that left 49 dead in Orlando also felt like a crime against her family.

While the shooting at Pulse prompted no significant changes to Florida's gun laws, the Parkland shooting prompted Gov. Rick Scott to sign the first significant gun control legislation to pass in the Sunshine State in two decades, increasing the age to buy assault-style weapons to 21 and putting in place a waiting period as well as strengthening background checks and committing $400 million to school safety and mental health solutions. The measure earned mixed reviews from Florida activists, and Gonzalez remains of two minds about the legislation as well.

"I hear a lot of people say, 'It's a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.' Nothing that has been implemented there could have prevented the shooting from happening at our school," Gonzalez says. "I personally am happy it happened because we need baby steps. We're not going to get an assault weapons ban right off the bat. We need little things to get us there."

But she calls a guardian program provision that could allow more school officials to carry firearms themselves a bad idea. "I know many teachers who would very happily quit their jobs before working on the same grounds as an armed teacher," Gonzalez says. "There's so many things wrong with it, but one of the many things is it just won't help and will only make things worse."

One thing she doesn't want to happen, though, is for lawmakers to declare the problem solved. What she fears is that politicians will decide they have placated the Parkland activists, then return to taking campaign donations from the National Rifle Association and blocking further reform.

"No," Gonzalez says. "That's not going to happen anymore."

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