Pulse survivor presses Congress to act on gun reform

A survivor of the mass shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida testified before Congress on Thursday, calling on lawmakers to act on gun reforms.  

Brandon Wolf spoke during a hearing of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, reading from a prepared statement.

"The sad reality is that my story isn’t unique. Hatred and the violence it begets are on the rise, and they have infected every single corner of this country," Wolf told members of Congress. "In America, it feels like we've made a decision: rather than use every tool in our toolbox to combat hatred, we have chosen to subsidize it, embolden it, and hand it an assault weapon."   READ FULL SPEECH BELOW.

President Donald Trump on Thursday poured cold water on prospects for a bipartisan compromise on gun legislation, even as Attorney General William Barr circulated a draft plan on Capitol Hill to expand background checks for gun sales.

In a Fox News interview, Trump said no deal is imminent, more than six weeks after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio killed more than 30 people.

"We're going very slowly," Trump said, adding that while he doesn't want "bad people" to have weapons, he won't allow any plan to move forward that takes guns away from law-abiding people or restricts Second Amendment rights.

A proposal being floated by Barr would require background checks on all commercial gun sales, including at gun shows.

The leaked proposal caused an uproar on Capitol Hill as lawmakers wondered whether Trump was poised to support expanded background checks in the face of opposition from fellow Republicans and the National Rifle Association.

But speaking to reporters on Air Force One as he returned home from California late Wednesday, Trump said the plan was just one of many ideas under consideration.

"Those are ideas that we're talking to Republicans, Democrats, everybody about. Some they like, some they don't like. Just a series of concepts," Trump said.

Trump told Fox that a call by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke to confiscate assault-style rifles has made it more difficult for Republicans to reach agreement on gun control.

"Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we're not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore," O'Rourke, a former Texas congressman, declared during a Democratic presidential debate last week.

"Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal," Trump tweeted Wednesday. "A lot of people think this is just a way of taking away guns," Trump told Fox, adding that he won't let that happen.

Asked about the proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases, Trump distanced himself, saying the document was put out by Barr.

Still, Trump said Barr was working on his behalf to try to reach a deal. "We got Bill Barr involved. He's an expert on guns and gun control," Trump said.

Barr and Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, have been meeting with lawmakers to talk about ways to reduce gun violence. Among the things they have discussed is a one-page document that would require background checks on all advertised commercial gun sales. The plan builds on a proposal by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to expand background checks.

Barr downplayed the proposal Wednesday, telling reporters: "We're just kicking around a number of ideas. The president hasn't made any decisions. I'm just kicking around ideas and perspectives so I'm in a better position to advise him."

Asked whether he would recommend the background check plan to Trump, Barr said "a number of different proposals" were being considered.

Even so, the NRA weighed in immediately, calling the proposal "a non-starter" with the NRA and its 5 million members.

The plan "burdens law-abiding gun owners while ignoring what actually matters: fixing the broken mental health system and the prosecution of violent criminals," said Jason Ouimet, the NRA's legislative director.

Manchin, who met with Barr on Wednesday, along with Toomey and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he remained hopeful.

Referring to Barr, Manchin said, "I think we're close to where he can take something to the president, to see if the president really wants to do something" on gun control.

Toomey said Barr's idea "is a mechanism for expanding background checks beyond what we have today. I have (Republican) colleagues who are open to that, so I'm modestly encouraged."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week that Congress remains "in a holding pattern" on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House.

Trump has previously pledged to veto a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, but McConnell said he is hopeful there are other gun-related proposals that Congress can approve and Trump can support.

Trump and White House aides have discussed a number of gun control measures with lawmakers, including steps to go after fraudulent buyers, notify state and local law enforcement when a potential buyer fails a background check, issue state-level emergency risk protection orders, boost mental health assistance and speed up executions for those convicted of mass shootings.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have warned Trump that gun-control legislation must include the House-passed bill to expand background checks. Any proposal that does not include the House legislation "will not get the job done" because dangerous loopholes will be left open, the Democrats said.

Below is the text of Brandon Wolf's speech before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee:


Good morning. Chairman Lewis, Ranking Member Kelly, and members of the subcommittee, I want to thank you for inviting me to speak for you today.

The night of June 11, 2016 was ordinary. Just like I always did after a long week, I went for a drink with my best friends, Drew and Juan. Our decision to go to Pulse Nightclub was little more than the flip of a coin. We got a later start than usual, piled into our rideshare, and just picked the club that was closest. To be honest, there are many moments from that night and the early hours of June 12 that are lost behind a traumatic fog. But there are others that are crystal clear. 

I remember dancing. I remember Juan’s goofy laugh. Drew’s long, gangly arm around my shoulder as he said, “I wish we said 'I love you' more.”  I remember we accidentally wore matching outfits. And before I knew it, it was 2 a.m. 

I can remember cold water from the faucet, a plastic cup teetering on the edge of the sink. I remember gunshots. Confusion. The rancid stench of blood and smoke. I remember the hair standing up on the back of my neck, my heart pounding as I crouched on the bathroom floor. I remember the faces of terror on those people trapped there with me, the panicked sprint for an opened door, and I swear I can still hear every single one of the 110 rounds that man pumped into the club.

I called Drew what felt like a thousand times over the next few hours, every dial more desperate than the last. I begged anyone for news of my friends, roamed the streets of Orlando until the sun came up, only to go home and stare at the television, waiting for their names on a list. 

I will never forget calling Juan’s family to tell them their son had been shot -- his mother’s heartbroken screams in the background, as if something in her died that day too. And I can never unsee their lifeless bodies in cold, hard caskets -- the last reminder that this was a nightmare that none of us would be waking up from.

The sad reality is that my story isn’t unique. Hatred and the violence it begets are on the rise, and they have infected every single corner of this country. In America, it feels like we've made a decision: rather than use every tool in our toolbox to combat hatred, we have chosen to subsidize it, embolden it, and hand it an assault weapon. Instead of uniting us and calling upon our better angels, we have a president in Donald Trump who traffics in the darkest elements of racism, misogyny, and hated to score cheap political points. Inaction in the face of hatred makes you complicit, and it’s high time that this Congress do something to protect those of us on the frontline.

I’m not the first person who's lost loved ones in a shooting fueled by hate. There are people like me in Charleston, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and El Paso, and so many more, and the fact is, there are actions that this Congress, that you, can take right now to push back against hate and violence. 

Your Senate colleagues can pass universal background checks, to make sure that people who shouldn’t have guns don't get them. You can enact red flag laws, so that the justice system can temporarily separate people from their guns. You can close loopholes that let people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes possess fire arms, and you can reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that are tearing our communities to shreds.

I have seen the power of hatred. It tore my world apart, stole my sense of joy, and still haunts me in my nightmares. That’s why I can say with confidence that, if you are not using everything at your disposal to snuff hatred out, then you are just not doing enough. 

My best friends are not a statistic; they’re empty seats at dinner tables, missing faces at birthday parties. They had futures that were stolen by hatred and our obsession with easy access to guns. So when this conversation gets bogged down in taxes and numbers, I simply ask that you remember their faces. Remember their names, their stories, and honor them not with empty words and hollow sympathies, but with action.  Thank you.