A powerful coalition of legislators and community leaders against gun violence, along with several survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting, banded together for the kick off of the Vocal Majority tour, which is intended to educate on gun violence and spread the word to elect pro-gun-control legislators in November.
Led by former Arizona Senator Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in Arizona and has since been a vocal advocate for gun control, and her husband Mark Kelly, the tour will span 14 states, driven on a bus colored bright shades of blue and white, leading up to the election.
Joining Giffords at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando for the tour’s kickoff Tuesday morning were a slew of Central Florida’s Democratic leaders (though their website states they are a bipartisan organization). Senate hopefuls Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy were there, joining Carlos Guillermo Smith and Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan. Two Pulse survivors, Celia Ruiz and Angel Colon, were also in attendance, as well as Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin.
All of their messages were similar in tone and conclusion – In the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, it’s even more important than ever to enact gun control laws that are responsible and meaningful. But Congress is doing nothing to stop the “epidemic” of gun violence, and too many of them are either timid or beholden to the National Rifle Association. And Hillary Clinton is the only presidential candidate promising to bring real change in that area, so it’s important to elect her as well as legislators who will follow her example.
Demings recounted a story from her early days in law enforcement – she was responding to a murder call, and found a young man, the victim, lying on the ground outside, she told a rapt audience.
“I thought of his siblings,” she said. “I thought of his father and his mother. His family was about to get some very bad news, but they didn’t know the bad news was on its way. Their loved one had been gunned down in the neighborhood he called home.”
Murphy attacked her opponent in the race for the Seventh Congressional District, John Mica, for accepting a donation from the gun lobby just two days after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June of this year. She said it offered a reason why he had consistently voted against any kind of gun control laws.
She also recalled her recent visit to the Pulse site, where, among the innumerable tributes and flowers placed and chalk etchings, she saw a simple and concise message that moved her: “Keep Dancing,” written in the middle of a chalk heart.
“We owe it to the victims of Pulse to ‘keep dancing,’” she said, going on to call for background checks, a ban on terror suspects from buying weapons and more.
Smith, in his usual grandiose charisma and character, proclaimed that the time was now to enact strict and logical gun control laws to prevent future tragedies.
He said action needed to be taken on guns, and that it was “personal now” for Central Florida and Orlando because of a “radical American homophobe” having attacked their community, subverting the buzzword of choice of “radical Islamic terrorist” that other politicians have used.
The ceremony ended with former astronaut, and Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly speaking on the importance and gravity of the cause.
“We need to make our voices heard at the ballots in November,” he said. “This country is in the grips of a gun violence crisis. Victims have been touched in the most unspeakable ways, in every state and every city. Congress has done something remarkable – nothing. They’ve done nothing.”
He warned that Sen. Marco Rubio certainly wouldn’t be the one to enact sensible gun control legislation – Rubio, Kelly said, wouldn’t even meet with him. So the responsibility, then, fell to voters to elect candidates in November who would do something.
Giffords finished off the ceremony with a message of perseverance.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage,” she said. “To do what’s right. You have to be responsible. Never stop fighting. Fight, fight, fight. Be bold, be courageous.”