Hundreds of protesters, including survivors from two of Florida’s deadliest modern mass shootings, staged a rally in Orlando on Monday to call for tougher firearms restrictions two years after a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub.
The demonstration, held on the eve of the shooting anniversary, preceded a day of events planned in Orlando commemorating the bloody rampage by a South Florida security guard who professed allegiance to Islamic State militants.
The assailant, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent, was killed when police stormed the Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, three hours after the gunman opened fire in the venue with an AR-15-style assault rifle and a pistol.
The death toll from the siege ranks as the second-most lethal mass shooting in the United States, surpassed only by the 59 lives lost when a gunman opened fire in October 2017 on an outdoor country music festival from a high-rise hotel window in Las Vegas and then killed himself.
While authorities branded the Pulse shooting an act of Islamic extremism, civil rights activists asserted that the massacre was also hate crime that largely targeted gay men and Latinos frequenting the club.
Advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have accused Florida Governor Rick Scott and other Republican politicians of contributing to anti-LGBT hostility by refusing to back measures prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.