Miami

A Year After Pulse Shooting, Family Keeps Fighting to Change Gun Laws

Maria and Fred Wright want guns kept out of the hands of terrorists

Before Maria Wright's son Jerry was killed in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, one year ago, she had done little to try to change the country's gun laws.

Horrified by the bloodbath at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and other mass shootings, she had donated money and had signed petitions but that was it.

This time when she got an email from Everytown for Gun Safety, she wrote back immediately: "They killed my son. What can I do?"

Jerry Wright and and his sister, Aida

"Because I felt like I should have done more before," she said. "And I didn't and now I've lost my son. I'm going to do what I can so this doesn't happen to anybody else."

Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire during the gay club's Latin night in the early morning a year ago, killing 49 people with an assault rifle and a handgun before being killed himself. Jerry Wright, who was in the Pulse nightclub celebrating a friend's birthday, died in the carnage.

Jerry Wright, one of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, is represented in a painting done by his sister, Aida.

A licensed, American-born security guard, Mateen was able to buy his weapons legally, though the FBI had investigated him twice, inconclusively. On the day of the attack, Mateen, whose wife, Noor Salman, was later charged with obstruction and aiding and abetting her husband, pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State on Facebook.

Today Maria Wright and her husband, Fred, are trying to convince lawmakers that they must do more to keep the country safe. The Wrights, who live in Miami, want laws to prohibit people like Mateen, who had been on the FBI's terrorist watch list from 2013 to 2014, from being able to purchase weapons. And they want everyone to have to undergo a background check.

"Our laws did not stop him at all," she said. "He was able to go in and kill and maim so many so quickly."

Jerry Wright, 31, worked at Walt Disney World, in merchandising on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom and in Tomorrowland. His mother said he was sweet, kind, thoughtful and helpful.

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"I want him to be remembered as someone who actually modeled that behavior, of being a part of his community, of being a good neighbor, being a good friend, a good son, a good family person," she said. "That's how I want my child to be remembered."

His behavior is motivating theirs now, she said.

The Chicago Bulls are going through a tumultuous time at the moment, with players speaking out in print and on social media, and Friday saw more fireworks as the team addressed the media at the Advocate Center ahead of their game against the Miami Heat.

Immediately after the Orlando shootings, one of the deadliest mass shootings in the country's history, the U.S. Senate rejected four measures that would have restricted gun sales.

"What am I going to tell the community of Orlando?" Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said after the votes, according to Reuters. "Sadly, what I'm going to tell them is the NRA won again."

Maria Wright remains convinced that most Americans would change the country's laws so that terrorists could not buy weapons. And she believes that many lawmakers would take action if they knew how many of their constituents wanted them to.

President Trump has hinted at additional U.S. airstrikes if the use of chemical weapons continue.

"Which means that we have to also look at ourselves and what we can do," she said. "But I'm not going to sit here and say that they're all terrible human beings and not a single one them gives a damn that my son was killed, because that's not the case."

She said she has had lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic, tell to her to be persistent.

Fred Wright said that he and his wife would continue to do what they could to make the changes happen. They are not going to stop, he said.

"We just want to honor our son in the best way possible," he said.

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