Deceased Victims Confront Pro-Gun Lawmakers in Eerie Phone Calls

metamorworks /
metamorworks /

This past Wednesday, federal lawmakers resistant to tighter gun regulations were bombarded with phone calls, each echoing the voice of Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, a victim of the tragic 2018 Parkland, FL, school shooting. This innovative advocacy tactic leverages artificial intelligence to resurrect the voices of gun violence victims, marking a chilling intersection of technology and tragedy. By vividly depicting the personal cost of lenient gun laws, this approach seeks to compel lawmakers to confront the urgent need for reform.

The families of Oliver and five other victims of gun violence are employing AI-generated messages in their loved ones’ voices and deploying robocalls to Senators and House members who align with the National Rifle Association and oppose stricter gun laws. This initiative operates through The Shotline website and enables visitors to hear the victims’ stories and select which offices receive these calls. Over 79,000 calls were submitted to representatives through The Shotline website as of February 20, 2024.

The campaign was strategically launched on Valentine’s Day, marking the sixth anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The tragic event claimed the lives of 17-year-old Oliver, 13 other students, and three staff members. Oliver himself fell victim while lying wounded on the floor, struck by a fatal bullet fired from the AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle wielded by the 19-year-old perpetrator.

Manuel and Patricia Oliver, Joaquin’s parents, assert that this campaign is founded on the widely acknowledged principle that contacting elected representatives is the initial step toward effecting legislative change. Hailing from Venezuela and now U.S. citizens, they advocated for the prohibition of firearm sales akin to the AR-15.

The initiative, supported by Change the Ref and March for Our Lives, organizations founded by the families of victims and Stoneman Douglas students, employs unconventional tactics like AI calls and “die-ins” to engage young people and challenge political inertia.

To create these AI-generated messages, families provided audio recordings of their deceased loved ones to an AI company. The AI software then reconstructed their voices, incorporating feedback from relatives to capture tone and speech patterns.

In Joaquin’s voice message, he introduces himself before delivering a poignant indictment: “Many students and teachers were murdered on Valentine’s Day … by a person using an AR-15, but you don’t care. You never did. It’s been six years, and you’ve done nothing.” The message goes on to demand action from lawmakers, questioning how many more lives must be lost before they take heed.

The Olivers had previously used AI to create a video featuring Joaquin urging young voters to support candidates advocating for stricter gun laws. However, critics accused them of politicizing his death. The Olivers refute such claims, asserting their intimate knowledge of Joaquin’s beliefs and principles, extensively documented on social media.

While some families affected by gun violence have chosen quieter forms of advocacy, the Olivers have adopted an aggressive approach, earning them the moniker “the rebel side of the gun violence prevention movement.” Manuel Oliver, in particular, has become known for his impassioned speeches and provocative actions, including a highly visible arrest and confrontations with political leaders. As Manuel Oliver aptly puts it, “We don’t have nothing to lose here — we already lost everything.”

While employing AI-generated victim voices in advocacy campaigns may serve as a powerful tool to elevate the voices of gun violence victims, it also raises ethical concerns. Then, there may be discomfort among some audiences with the concept of using AI to simulate the voices of the deceased for political purposes, viewing it as exploitative or insensitive. Furthermore, there is a broader ethical debate surrounding the use of AI in influencing public opinion and policy, particularly when it involves emotionally charged issues like gun control.