Police patrols have been increased at locations frequented by the LGBTQ community after a gunman murdered 49 people and wounded 53 more early on June 12 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The incident is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The gunman was killed by SWAT officers at the scene.
Local lawmakers expressed outrage about the shooting and support for the LGBTQ community. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said more gun regulations are needed and assault weapons should not be available to the public.
“It was horrifying to wake up to reports of a mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims,” Schiff said. “I strongly support the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. I don’t think there is any reason for people to possess military-style assault weapons. They are not used for self-defense, they are not used for hunting.”
Schiff said he will continue to push for stricter regulations on assault weapons, and for new legislation that would require the FBI to be notified if anyone on the government’s “no-fly” list attempts to purchase a firearm. Tragedies like the incident in Orlando point out the need for stronger gun regulations, he said.
Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala said the LAPD is on heightened alert after the attack in Orlando, but stressed there are no threats in Los Angeles. She said the public can expect to see more patrol cars and uniformed officers at high-profile locations, and plain-clothes officers have been deployed.
“Every single facet of the department is working in cooperation with other law enforcement partners and the LAFD and the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Everybody is cooperating and sharing information and working together. There is also a very strong flow of information with the mayor’s office and the city council,” Girmala said. “It’s beyond words, beyond feelings [what occurred in Orlando]. We made sure the deployment was robust, and we are working with the resources we have so we have the ability to respond.”
Capt. Rolando Solano, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Wilshire Division, added that police patrols will continue for now.
“We have been providing extra patrols and contacting management at clubs. There is very much a heightened awareness,” Solano said. “We are reaching out to our partners in the LGBTQ community. There is nothing specific for the L.A. region, but we are always on guard.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which polices West Hollywood, also increased security, particularly at the L.A. Pride Festival and Parade. The events occurred without any significant problems.
However, a man from Indiana who was armed with three assault rifles and chemicals that can be used for making explosives was arrested by Santa Monica police shortly after 5 a.m. on Sunday. He told investigators he was headed to the Pride Festival and Parade, according to reports. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating the suspect, identified as James Wesley Howell, 20.
Howell has been charged with one felony count each of unlawful possession of an assault weapon, possession of a destructive device on a public street and manufacturing or importing a large magazine, as well as one misdemeanor count of carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle. He pleaded not guilty during his initial court appearance on Tuesday and remains in custody. Howell faces a sentence of up to nine years and eight months if convicted, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
The LAPD and sheriff’s department called on the public to report any suspicious activity or information about potential attacks by calling local police stations or (877)LAPD247 and (800)222-TIPS. Girmala said an app enabling the public to submit tips using smart phones can be downloaded at www.lapdonline.org.
Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said she is shocked and angry about the attack in Orlando. She led a rally and candlelight vigil for victims on Monday at Los Angeles City Hall attended by more than 2,000 people.
Jean said the center is examining security at its facilities and is responding in solidarity with the victims and survivors in Orlando.
“We all woke up to the horrific news as we were planning to go to Pride. Some were afraid to go and others showed up for support. All of us knew we could not allow this senseless tragedy in Orlando to silence us,” Jean said. “Many of us, myself included, are angry.”
Jean said her anger is focused on right wing extremists who target the LGBT community and the Republican leadership who she said fails to protect the community from gun violence.
“This guy is a born and bred American,” Jean said. “You don’t need to go to the Middle East to be exposed to the level of discrimination and bigotry that leads to this kind of hatred. The rest of us need to stand up in saying this isn’t OK.”
The city of West Hollywood condemned the violence and issued a statement of solidarity.
“There are no words that capture the heartbreak we feel. The tragic shooting massacre in Orlando is nothing short of horrific. This is a terrible reminder to the LGBT community that, though we’ve achieved so much in our fight for full equality, there is still much work to be done for love to prevail,” the statement read.
Many city officials also denounced the violence and called for changes to make the country safer.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and survivors in Orlando,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “Once again, a shocking act of violence forces us to reflect on the price of allowing easy access to fearsome weaponry. We must push against hate with love. We must end gun violence.”
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who co-chairs Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, said the fight for equality and public safety must continue.
“As we celebrate the amazing progress that has been made for LGBTQ rights … we are devastated by the horrific news from Orlando – many killed, dozens injured, countless lives shattered in one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history,” Feuer said. “Vehement homophobia and transphobia still exist, and while we continue to raise our voices and march to change hearts, minds and laws, we must also do a better job in keeping the 300 million guns in our country away from people who should not have them. Across our nation, it’s a matter of life and death.”
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, one of three openly gay representatives in the city of Los Angeles, set his sights on accessibility to firearms.
“More tragedy from Orlando as gun violence and mass shootings run rampant across the land because of a perverse and corrupt interpretation of the Second Amendment, as well as plenty of cowardly policy makers who refuse to stand up to the National Rifle Association and gun rights zealots,” O’Farrell said. “The combination endangers all of us. The result, more senseless death and destruction, more shattered communities, more devastated families, more collective trauma on a national level and a diminished quality of life everywhere.”
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) supported Impulse Group chapter in Orlando has established a fund to assist victims of the tragedy. AHF made a $100,000 contribution to the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida, and is also organizing blood drives in Orlando. For information on donating, visit www.gofundme.com/OrlandoUnited.
“Our hearts are heavy as we mourn, standing in solidarity with the Orlando community and the entire LGBTQ community worldwide, as an attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
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