Las Vegas Gun Control Activist Karl Catarata on the Reform Movement's Next Steps

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Catarata (right) at March for Our Lives in Las Vegas on March 24.

In the six months since the Route 91 Harvest festival, the United States has seen five mass shootings -- including the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Since then, outspoken and organized young activists have pushed gun-control issues to the fore of public life -- like 20-year-old University of Nevada-Las Vegas student Karl Catarata, who, since surviving a 2014 shooting at a Las Vegas police station and Walmart (which killed two officers and one bystander), has led walkouts at UNLV. He spoke to Billboard about the connections he has drawn between the Route 91 and Parkland shootings, and how activism can move forward.

After Route 91, what were the conversations about activism in Vegas like?
"We need a rally on gun violence. We need a ban on assault weapons. We need security at hotels.” But when I tried to start this coalition, Vegas Strong, it failed. No one was really motivated to get involved. Many festival attendees were tourists, so they were very dispersed. Also, some Route 91 survivors were very pro-gun.

Yet post-Parkland, gun control became a young person’s issue. Why?
It’s our classmates who are dying. Other shootings have affected more marginalized communities: [For instance], Pulse was a gay club. The fact is, Parkland has largely white, upper-middle-class suburban kids. And it was a school shooting. Everyone has to go to school.

You’re a Filipino American from a purple state -- you could devote time to any cause. Why guns?
This is an issue that affects me because of the Walmart shooting, and I don’t want it to happen here at UNLV. Also, it has been a very white issue before. I’ve done Asian-Pacific Islander organizing, and I’d look to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action -- it’s a very white-dominated space. But it wasn't until Parkland that I saw the importance of people of color being part of the movement.

What kind of activism is necessary next?
We want to put more pressure on Nevada legislators like U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Congressman Mark Amodei [both Republicans]. But we don’t care about Democrats or Republicans -- we’ll vote you out if you’re not doing the right thing. We’re going to get people registered to vote. We’re going to push candidates who have F’s from the National Rifle Association. Next year, we’ll have the march again. The long-term plan is to get regulation, a constitutional amendment. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in a few months, but maybe years from now. That’s audacious and radical.

This article originally appeared in the April 14 issue of Billboard.