Orlando Pulse survivor talks to NRA member about guns on '3rd Hour of TODAY'


  • Screenshot via '3rd Hour of TODAY'/NBC.com
“Real people having tough conversation but without all the yelling.” That's how NBC meteorologist and "3rd Hour of TODAY" co-host Al Roker describes the show's new segment, “United Today.”

One guest on the segment this morning will be a familiar face to anyone in Orlando who experienced or watched coverage of the June 12, 2016, Pulse tragedy.

This morning’s installment pitted a mass-shooting victim, Pulse survivor and gun reform activist Brandon Wolf, up against an NRA member, Chicago Guns Matter founder Rhonda Ezell.

Anchor Craig Melvin moderated the discussion between the two, whose polarized principles and ideological differences offered a charged sampling of the national discourse around guns.

Ezell said she believes all people, including the predominantly black population of her neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, should learn how to own and operate firearms.

The Second Amendment is a “check on the government,” said Ezell, adding that guns are a check on anyone who might bring harm. She proudly teaches her 9-year-old granddaughter how to use guns.

“When she goes to college, it’s not going to be ‘me too,” said Ezell. “It’s going to be a ‘not me.’”

In her view, any regulation, like “red flag” laws or limits on high capacity rifles, goes against each American’s right to defend themselves and will do little in preventing a mass shooter. Even if the laws are there, people will break them, she said.
Wolf was quick to point out that, before the Pulse shooting, “on multiple occasions,’ people went to the police say the soon-to-be murderer was “potentially violent.” But, he said, there was no red-flag-law mechanism for the police to investigate. He also noted that states with added gun-specific legislation have seen a decrease in violent homicides of over 30 percent.

Ultimately, argues Ezell, a person is going to shoot others if that is what they decide, and no law can prevent that decision. She did say that mentally ill people proven to be a threat to harm themselves or others shouldn’t have guns.

Even with her affinity for firearms, Ezell thinks gun violence is an issue, and that officials need to do more to keep communities safe. If a lot of attention isn’t paid to the problem, the carnage will continue, she said.

“We agree on that,” said Wolf.

Melvin asked Ezell if she’s ever had to use a gun. She said she never has and hopes she never will. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be prepared,” said Ezell, in black braids slightly greying at the top, carrying herself with an impassioned certainty.

Wolf said he “accepted this world” of mass shootings before that night at Pulse. Prior to that harrowing experience, he would see news of another mass shooting on TV and, after a couple of minutes, likely “flipped to the Food Network” and went on about his day.

Then a shooter killed 49 people while Wolf was clubbing, including two of his close friends.

The "3rd Hour of TODAY" segment is billed as two principled people nicely squaring off in discourse and debate. Given Ezell’s lack of experience being shot at, it ended up being her abstract principles largely confronting Wolf’s lived-in pain.

Out of that pain, Wolf has found resolve. He’s become an advocate for gun control. In September, he testified before Congress.

On display during his talk with Ezell, the slender Wolf in a sharp blue suit exhibited how he’s channeled his direct knowledge of the horror of gun violence into optimism and working toward a gun-violence-free future.

Asked what will change in five years, Ezell said she couldn’t see much difference in gun violence by then.

Wolf said he refused to believe that. He sees the generations of kids who go through active shooter drills growing up doing something about it. Their trauma, like his, would spur their action in the name of gun control, like him.

“I think what you are going to see over the next five and ten years is that generation, that population of people,” said Wolf, “saying ‘enough is enough.’’

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