A gunman’s rampage on a gay nightclub in Florida killed 49 people and wounded 53 more, making it one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history and the worst domestic terror strike since the Twin Towers fell.
It was also a hate crime against the LGBT community.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 12, 2016
The shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, reportedly targeted Pulse nightclub out of homophobia. He was killed by police after an hours-long standoff and is excluded from a revised victim count.
News of the tragedy prompted an outpouring of grief across the globe with people unfurling rainbow flags and holding vigils to honor the victims.
In San Jose, 300 people lit candles outside the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center Sunday in tribute to the lives lost. Maribel Martinez, who heads Santa Clara County’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, read the names of the first known victims—almost all of them Latino. Gabrielle Antolovich, Billy DeFrank’s board president, called the shooting an attack on “our own people.”
As President Obama noted in his address after the shooting, Pulse was more than a dance club—it was “a place of solidarity and empowerment where people [came] together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights.”
“I rarely thought of gay bars as sanctuaries before today, but that’s how they’ve always served me: as safe spaces, as community centers, as places to feel connected with and accepted by people like me,” Casey Newton, Silicon Valley Editor for The Verge, wrote on Facebook hours after the attack. “They are among the most diverse places I visit, and also the most inclusive. While they are not religious places, they embody religious ideals: of radical acceptance, of universal brotherhood, and of love. Once I’m done crying, and done working, I’m going out in the Castro again to help remind the world what LGBT people have always stood for—the idea that you should be who you are and love who you want. There is no other way.”
— Cindy Chavez (@SupCindyChavez) June 12, 2016
The county’s government center and local city halls lowered their flags to half-mast, at the president’s behest. Various community groups planned more vigils, including two tonight at San Jose’s City Hall—one at 6pm and another at 8:30pm.
Our flags at City Hall are half-staff today, out of respect for the victims of Saturday’s senseless violence pic.twitter.com/XBuG70T90g
— Sam Liccardo (@sliccardo) June 13, 2016
Lawmakers decried the tragedy as another failure of the nation’s gun policies, which allowed Mateen, who had been investigated for ties to terrorist groups, to legally buy an AR-15-style weapon—a frighteningly efficient tool for mass murder.
State Assembly members put out a call for action on gun safety laws Monday, holding a press conference in San Francisco to highlight a slew of gun safety bills awaiting a vote in the state Senate Committee on Public Safety this week. Here’s a list of them:
AB 1664 (Levine, Chiu, and Ting): removes loophole in assault weapon ban that allows for “bullet buttons” to easily facilitate changing magazines.
AB 1673 (Gipson): closes loophole allowing for sale of “ghost guns,” or gun parts and components that can be easily reassembled.
AB 1674 (Santiago): limits purchase of long guns to one per month, aligning the regulation for hand gun purchases.
AB 1695 (Bonta): stops illegal “straw” purchases, or someone legally buying a gun and then reselling it to someone unable to legally purchase a firearm.
AB 2607 (Ting): allows mental health professionals, employers or coworkers to seek restraining orders to prevent high-risk individuals from obtaining firearms.
The Bay Area’s Muslim community expressed shock and outrage about the attack, which authorities believe was inspired, though not coordinated, by ISIS. Mateen, an Afghani-American, was born in the United States and appears to have been radicalized over the internet.
“We join our fellow Americans in expressing our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” said Zahra Billoo, head of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, in a statement Sunday. “We are horrified by this tragedy and encourage all people to donate blood, support the various vicitms’ funds and attend vigils in their neighborhoods. We are stronger when we stand together against hate violence.”
Speaking of blood donations, there’s an urgent need for them in the wake of the shooting. But in an infuriating twist, it’s easier for a suspected terrorist to buy an assault rifle than a gay man to donate blood in this country. Federal law bans sexually active gay men from donating blood, which adds another layer of outrage.