Pulse, Parkland families endorse Bill Nelson in Florida Senate race

click to enlarge Christine Leinonen, mother of Pulse victim Christopher Leinonen, is comforted by survivor Brandon Wolf. - Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Christine Leinonen, mother of Pulse victim Christopher Leinonen, is comforted by survivor Brandon Wolf.
Citing inaction from Gov. Rick Scott on gun reform after two major mass shootings in Florida, Pulse and Parkland families endorsed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson last weekend in his re-election campaign.

Central Florida lawmakers joined families, survivors and advocates to call out the Republican governor's record on preventing gun violence, especially in the 612 days between the 2016 shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse where 49 people were gunned down and the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where a shooter murdered 17 students and teachers.

Brandon Wolf, who survived the Pulse shooting but lost two of his best friends that day, had the harshest words for Scott.

"I am so sorry that we were too gay to be a priority for you," Wolf said at a press conference at Orlando's Credo Conduit. "I’m so sorry that we were too brown for you to care. I am so sorry that obviously this district didn't matter to you for re-election purposes. But let me be crystal clear – I am not sorry for calling you what you are, and that is a spineless shell of a human being capable of little else than supporting your bank account. I am not sorry for telling the people of Florida that there's only one person in this race who actually cares about us, and that's Sen. Bill Nelson."

Orlando Weekly reached out to Scott's Senate campaign for a comment but did not immediately receive a response.

Wolf said in the aftermath of the Pulse shooting, he and other advocates begged for gun reform legislation to ban semiautomatic assault weapons and provide more access to mental health resources. But Wolf says Scott instead "turned his back on us and fought hard to protect his NRA A+ rating."

click to enlarge Brandon Wolf - Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Brandon Wolf
"I am not sorry for rejecting with every last breath I have your sadistic brand of narcissism that is killing us," Wolf said. "Six hundred and twelve days of inaction, 612 days of criminal negligence, 612 days of the same old Rick Scott that ended with 17 more people dead. November's midterm is a battle for the lives of Floridians. On one side is Sen. Bill Nelson, a man who fights to protect our community, pass common-sense gun safety legislation and strengthen our laws. And on the other hand, you have a snake in politician's clothing who is not capable of anything else than lifting up himself."

Christine Leinonen, the mother of Pulse victim Christopher "Drew" Leinonen, said her son was shot nine times and died along with his partner Juan Ramón Guerrero. When her son was a baby, Leinonen said she worked as a Michigan state trooper and recalled being terrified of assault weapons even though she carried three guns for her job. The 1994 federal ban on assault weapons was effective for about a decade until Republicans let it lapse, she argued.

"There's this tsunami of gun violence and it is preventable," she said. "It is solvable. This isn't like a hurricane that we just have to take what MOther Nature throws at us. This is preventable and it's preventable by electing strong Democrats. … It's time to re-elect Sen. Nelson."

After the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, the Florida Legislature quickly put together a controversial bill that raised the minimum age to purchase a rifle to 21, banned bump stocks and required a three-day waiting period for all firearms, including rifles. The bill also included $400 million in school safety funding, including money for a program to train and arm school employees.

Democratic Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw said he voted against the bill in the Florida House because the bill didn't go far enough to prevent mass shootings – it failed to include a ban on assault weapons and instead armed teachers.

"We have two problems in this state," he said. "One is guns. Two is political courage. And it's the second one that is preventing us from solving this problem."

click to enlarge Fred Guttenberg - Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Fred Guttenberg
Fred Guttenberg is haunted every day by the details of the last time he saw his 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg.

It was a chaotic morning with the kids running late, dogs barking, and Guttenberg and his wife trying to get to work. He can't remember if he told Jaime he loved her before she left that morning to be later murdered by a shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"I'm a father who starts days at a cemetery for a 14-year-old daughter who'll be forever 14," he said. "So why am I here for you, Sen. Nelson? Because I know your commitment to this issue."

Guttenberg said he was thankful to Scott for passing some gun reforms after his daughter's death, but his past decisions on gun reform and continuing relationship with the National Rifle Association makes him "unsuitable to serve in the Senate," Guttenberg said.

"Unfortunately under Gov. Scott, nothing was done on guns or school safety after the prior incidents, like Pulse or the Fort Lauderdale shooting," he said. "Perhaps if more had been done before, I would be only known as Jesse and Jaime’s dad, and I wouldn't be involved in something like this."

Nelson said he would push for comprehensive and universal background checks and banning gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list.

"This is what Americans want," Nelson said. "We're being prevented because the votes are not there of the people who will stand up for what the American people want."

click to enlarge Pulse, Parkland families endorse Bill Nelson in Florida Senate race
Photo by Monivette Cordeiro

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