Finally, a united stand against guns

At first, it looked like the same old story. A crazy person with a gun walks into a crowded, public place. Unleashes mayhem and tragedy. Mass casualties. The nation mourns, hopes and prays.

Congress does nothing.

Rinse, repeat.

But this time it was different. This time, the nation cares too much. This time, everybody is watching.

It began with a filibuster. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who once represented a district in Connecticut not far from Sandy Hook, stood on the house floor last Wednesday, June 16, for 15 hours to urge Congress to vote on two gun control measures. He was joined by more than two dozen of his fellow Democratic representatives.

His bill included measures that appeared to be common sense — ban anyone on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from being able to purchase guns; and close the “gun show loophole,” which would mandate background checks on private gun sales, both of which have the support of some 90 percent of Americans.

Democratic sit-in

As Murphy stated during his marathon speech, one restriction does not work without the other.

Five days later, Murphy’s bill, along with one other Democratic proposal and two Republican bills tackling similar issues, were all voted down.

But again, the tide was changing. It was palpable. I even texted a friend later that day — “it’s only the beginning.” But even I didn’t know what was coming next.

It culminated yesterday when members of the House Democratic Caucus staged an unprecedented sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. It began at 11:30 a.m. EST, and lasted until about 3 a.m. after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan abruptly adjourned the session despite Democratic protests.

A sit-in. As in, the thing we read about in history textbooks in middle school but didn’t Democratic sit in2know they still existed. Seeing it happen before my eyes was as surreal as if I saw a real-life dinosaur. The Democrats might as well have played the theme from Jurassic Park for dramatic effect while they sat .

Technically, what happened was illegal. If the House is not in session — which it wasn’t since Republicans left — then the proceedings are not supposed to be televised. But Democrats filmed their protest on the social media site Periscope, and CSPAN picked up the live feed.

That’s right folks, for one night CSPAN was the network to watch. I care about politics and I still couldn’t even tell you what channel it is. I still can’t, even though I put it on last night.

The sit-in was led by civil rights hero John Lewis. Democratic leaders gave interviews throughout the day. Many held signs in protest, including photos of the victims of the Orlando shooting. Some sang. Many supporters flocked outside Capitol Hill as a sign of solidarity.

And on Twitter, #NoBillNoBreak was trending nationwide. It was truly a historic occasion.

This is powerful stuff, and I just hope the momentum continues.

Furthermore, we have a watershed election cycle rapidly approaching, and now’s the time when we, the people, have the ability to replace those who did nothing.

I’m the laziest person in the world. My ideal day is one where I sit on a couch and do nothing. I’m the biggest advocate of doing nothing.

But when it comes to passing common sense gun control laws and saving American lives, doing nothing is absolutely not an option.

This time it’s different.

Note to parents: animals are dangerous

You know that a particular region has not had a good month when one can ask, “Did you hear about the tragedy in Florida?” only for the response to be: “Which one?”

But before we talk about the latest incident to occur within the state, we first must address some key developments that took place today in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.

We wondered, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Roseburg, and after San Bernardino, what it would take for both political parties to finally come to agreement on common sense gun control.

Well, it appears it took the deadliest shooting in United States history.

NRA2.jpgWhile Democratic senators filibustered all day (which is still ongoing as of 9 p.m. EST) to demand Republican action on gun control legislation, there was a momentous and unprecedented step taken this afternoon by the National Rifle Association.

They endorsed gun control.

Granted, it’s the most obvious form of gun control that could ever exist, but nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction. As most people know, the NRA is so powerful that they own pretty much all Republican legislators, and are the basically the reason why talk of gun control always ends up going nowhere.

Today, however, the NRA said that individuals who are on the FBI’s terrorist watch list should be investigated upon their attempt to purchase a gun.

This, of course, comes just about seven months after they clearly voiced their concern for such action, which is a shame, because it if it was implemented earlier, then perhaps the FBI could have prevented the Orlando massacre.

Omar Mateen purchased guns 12 days before he killed 49 people in a nightclub. You’re telling me that if the FBI was alerted of his actions, that they might not have been able to stop him?

It’s a shame that it took such a tragedy to finally open people’s eyes.

But anyway, we’ll see what comes of it. In the meantime, let’s discuss another horrible thing that took place today.

By this morning, the nation had all but given up hope that a 2-year-old boy dragged into a lagoon by an alligator at a Disney resort was still alive. At about 3:30 p.m. on, the boy’s body was found. 

And I know it’s hard to place blame on anyone. Everyone did what they should be doing.Alligator.jpg The toddler was playing in the shallow water. The parents were nearby. The alligator sensed prey.

It’s also worth noting that five different alligators were trapped and killed during the search.

But after what happened with Harambe the silver-backed gorilla in a Cincinnati zoo last month, and now this, I think we all just need to take a step back and reassess the awesome power of nature.

Humans have represented the dominant species on Earth for a minuscule portion of the evolutionary scale. Before us, every living being knew to tread very, very carefully. One wrong step could be your last.

Now I’m not saying to live each moment expecting a pack of wild hyenas to come roaring down the street. But we need to respect that there are vicious, predatory creatures out there. Not everything on this planet exists for us.

I think some people forget that. What happened was an absolute tragedy, and it’s devastating that a 2-year-old boy is dead, and his parents now have to live the rest of their life with the guilt of believing it was their irresponsibility and negligence that killed their son.

But if we start respecting nature a little more, then not only can human lives be spared, but maybe animals also wouldn’t have to be killed simply for acting like themselves.

And you know what? While we’re at it, we should be afraid of hyenas. They deceive us masquerading as dogs, and can only be distinguished by their bushy tails.

Plus, they were antagonists in the Lion King.

#FearTheHyena

‘Mommy I love you’

I like to think of myself as some one who is mentally tough. I’m certainly not physically tough, so long ago I needed to find some way to showcase my inner strength.

I try not go let too much get to me. I don’t complain often when things don’t go my way. And I try to suck it in when I’m feeling any type of pain.

Who knows, perhaps it’s some type of defense mechanism to shield myself from the horrors that can exist in the world.

But whatever the reason, one consequence of my desire to exude mental toughness is I don’t show a lot of emotion. And when I see or hear about something sad, my first instinct is to try to ignore it or change the subject.

Mommy I love you.jpgAgain — probably a defense mechanism. A psychologist could have a field day with me if I ever saw one.

And that’s sort of how I wanted to deal with the Orlando shooting. To stay away from it all. I’d read a few articles and listen to some news broadcasts just to keep up to date, but otherwise, I’d think about other things. It’s much easier to go about life that way than to deal with the sadness of 49 lives tragically cut short.

But there was one item that found its way to me today.

“Mommy I love you.”

Those were among the last words expressed by Eddie Justice, 30, as he texted his mom at 2:06 a.m. while he hid in a bathroom at the Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning in Orlando. He and his mother engaged in a brief conversation for a few more minutes, and then the texts stop coming.

Eddie was shot and killed.

And every time I think about it, I want to cry. Mommy I love you.

Those four words offer no more somber reminder that these were 49 people who — likeEddie Justice.jpg all of us — had a life, had friends, had a family, and had a mother. They had people that they loved and they were loved back. And now they’re gone from one senseless act of violence.

In his waning moments, all Eddie Justice wanted to do was tell his mother how much he loved her. “Call them mommy,” he texted minutes later, referring to the police. “I’m gonna die.”

If that isn’t a stark reminder of how fragile we are in this world, or how tenuous the difference is between life and death, then I don’t know what is.

But in the end, despite the horror, love was on his mind.

Mommy I love you.

I will not hide away from Orlando. As hard as I can try, I will remember every day of my life that we lost 49 good people on June 12, 2016.

In addition to Eddie Justice, here the are the names of the 48 other victims. To forget them is to shame them.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

After Orlando, maybe there is hope

Well, it’s now been some 36 hours since the tragedy in Orlando, and a lot of the information that we did not know yesterday is starting to come out.

  • We now know that the attacker, Omar Mateen, 29, born in New York to Afghan parents, pledged allegiance to ISIS during the attack.
  • We know he had previously been strongly irritated when he saw two men kissing in public in Miami.
  • We know it took police three hours to storm into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando to Pulse Nightclub.jpgend the standoff.
  • We know the attacker used the same type of military-style assault rifle that was used in Newtown, Conn., Roseburg, Ore., Aurora, Colo. and San Bernardino, Calif.
  • We know that the FBI had investigated Mateen for several months for his possible ties to terrorism, but did not find enough evidence to take action.
  • It’s also being reported that Mateen was witnessed inside the Pulse nightclub on previous occasions, and that he even used gay dating apps.

As much as I wanted to avoid reading and watching news about this atrocity, I knew that doing so would only feed into ignorance. If I wanted to engage in any rational conversation about what happened, then it’s important that I know the facts so I’m not spewing misinformation. Because that helps nobody.

So that’s my first piece of advice. Don’t make blind assumptions. Strive to find out the truth. It’s one thing to remain ignorant, but it’s worse to spread your ignorance on others.

Yesterday I may have been slightly guilty of that. I lamented our nation’s tendency to divide during times of tragedy.

But maybe I spoke too soon.

Eiffel Tower

Because, unbelievably, on Monday, there were inspiring moments throughout the globe that showed that maybe, just maybe, there is hope.

First, there was the amazing response of all the people who flocked to blood banks throughout Orlando to donate to the injured victims.

Then there was the vigil at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, an iconic backdrop in the history of the Gay Civil Rights Movement in America after police stormed the building in 1969 because it was serving as a safe haven for gay couples.

And there were vigils across the world, from Canada to England to Germany Israel to Turkey to Hong Kong. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was lit to reflect LGBT colors.

And then there was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heartfelt and touching sonnet he read aloud at the Tony Awards on Sunday night in response to the shooting.

So I retract some of my post from yesterday. I was understandably frustrated. But perhaps it was too soon to give up on humanity.

Maybe there is hope for us yet.

It’s time we acted like we’re all in this together

I was fairly preoccupied this weekend hosting and entertaining somebody in New York City, and therefore did not really have much time to check the news.

So you can imagine how flustered I suddenly became when I turned on my TV on Sunday afternoon to hear about what happened in Orlando.

First it was the senseless killing of The Voice contestant and pop singer Christina Grimmie, who had her whole life and career ahead of her, and millions of people to touch with her gift of song.

Christina Grimmie.jpgI saw a show in March where she was the first of two openers. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the venue in time and I missed the opportunity to see her live.

Now I never will.

And of course, there was what happened early Sunday morning, a terrorist attack and hate crime that amounted to the deadliest shooting in United States history.

Fifty people. By one killer. It still doesn’t make sense.

It’s devastating and heartbreaking enough that we have to deal with the reality of tragedy, but it’s extra painful to see the backlash that erupts as a result of it.

People immediately use the atrocity to share their political views. Whether it be on guns, LGBT rights, or radical Islamic terrorism. And for every post where someone tries to make sense of the issue on Facebook, there’s someone in the comments section disagreeing with their politics.

Scroll across the Instagram comments of a celebrity expressing their sympathies for the victims. It won’t be long before you encounter a debate.

It’s like clockwork, and unfortunately, a microcosm of America.Orlando shooting.jpg

Every time something really bad happens, I feel like it divides us more and more. That’s what really irks me. Because we can’t control it when a disillusioned, unstable person hits a breaking point and decides to shoot up a public place.

But we can control how we react. We can dictate the ensuing conversation.

And rather then coming together and deciding how we could uniformly grieve for the victims but still unite as one, we quarrel.

I’ll admit that I don’t know what the solution is. But I know that it’s not this.

Maybe when you go about your week, keep the victims lodged in your thoughts. Be extra nice to your family, friends and colleagues. Treat strangers with respect. Smile more.

Yes we all have our own lives and problems. But what happened in Orlando early Sunday morning shouldn’t stake us against one another.

It should remind us that we’re all in this together.

Let’s act that way.