WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tuesday marked exactly two years since 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded after a gunman opened fire inside a bustling Orlando nightclub.
A horrified nation looked on as the death toll mounted, ultimately making Pulse the deadliest mass shooting in American history — only to be surpassed the following year by yet another massacre, this time in Las Vegas.
In the chaos of the last few years, Pulse might seem like forever ago. But a group of young activists gathered outside the Capitol on Tuesday to push for a solution, pausing to honor victims and support survivors.
Amanda Fugleberg, an Orlando resident, led about 100 students, teachers, and parents outside the Capitol, as part of the flagship action of the National Die-In taking place in multiple cities.
“You could feel the gloom in Orlando for the next few months as we mourned and grieved the loss of our angels,” Fugleberg said, recalling the mood in her community following the Pulse shooting. “We all hoped that this would be the last time something like this would happen.”
Starting at noon, rally-goers laid down on the west lawn for 12 minutes in unbroken silence, an act memorializing the victims of Pulse, as well as those who were killed by gun violence in schools, workplaces, and at the hands of police. Each wore an orange body tag reading “$1.18,” representing all political contributions by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to members of Congress, divided by the total number of students in America. Survivors of the Parkland school shooting in February popularized the use of such price tags, wearing them at rallies and during mass speeches.
Amanda chastised Congress for stalling on comprehensive gun reform, denouncing the legislative impasse in the days since Newtown, Orlando, and Parkland as “infuriating.” Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio joined House Speaker Paul Ryan as three culprits of inaction often mentioned by the students and advocates who took to the stage before the die-in.
Bree Butler, a survivor of the recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, came with message for Sen. Cruz: “I appreciate your thoughts and prayers, sir, but my thoughts are with you being voted out of office this fall,” she said at the rally.
According to Naomi Caplan, a student who helped organize the action, the National Die-In came to the Capitol with specific legislative demands for Congress. Among them: universal background checks, increased federal funding for mental health care, and stricter gun storage laws.
“We don’t want to take away people’s guns, we just want people to be safer in this country,” Caplan said. “Because this doesn’t happen in other developed countries, we think we can solve it with stricter legislation like background checks, storage laws, and mandatory waiting periods.”
Caplan is a young Maryland activist who, together with Montgomery County Students for Gun Control and Students Demand Action, has spearheaded a number of sit-ins and other Washington-area actions calling for comprehensive gun legislation following the March for Our Lives. Caplan and three other students were arrested in April after a similar die-in outside Speaker Ryan’s office, demanding a floor vote.
“I think that helped draw attention to the issue that Paul Ryan hasn’t any brought any legislation to the floor,” Caplan told ThinkProgress. “One of my priorities right now is to make sure the House votes on gun control — if he’s not even going to let people vote, that’s completely undemocratic.”
Following the die-in, students arranged a sit-in at the offices of Sens. Cruz and Mitch McConnell, pledging to stay until they met with staff members. A small group of young activists were ultimately successful in arranging a meeting with Sen. McConnell’s staff on the issue of gun control legislation.
Like similar actions before it, the National Die-In had a strong emphasis on voting. Students survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting have honed in on efforts to register youth to vote, including newly-eligible high school students energized to vote after the March for Our Lives. Parkland students recently announced a summer bus tour seeking to “turn our energy into action” by registering students nationwide.
It’s a calling that Nurah Abdulhaqq, a founding member of the National Die-In, answered by registering voters in her local community of Chapel Hill, Georgia.
“I’m 14 so I really can’t vote, but I really want to inspire people to get out and vote because their voice matters,” Abdulhaqq told ThinkProgress. “Honestly, I think this will be the biggest youth voter turnout there’s been since Barack Obama — I’m really hopeful.”