On Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire from high above the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, ultimately killing 60 and wounding more than 400. The crime, in which another 456 persons were injured, remains the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
But out of this tragedy comes a story of true heroism. When Iraq War veteran Taylor Winston heard the first shots, he sprang into action. The former Marine grabbed a truck and began to shuttle wounded concertgoers from the scene to a nearby hospital. Winston’s quick thinking doubtless saved many lives.
Many survivors of mass shootings come out in favor of more gun control, but Winston says his experience that day in Las Vegas solidified his belief in the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.
“I never ever want to have anyone experience [a mass shooting], but I would go through it again and again and again to protect our gun rights, because [the Second Amendment] protects us from something far worse and bigger, and that’s a potential tyrannical government committing genocide,” Winston says.
Winston joins this bonus episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast,” recorded at Turning Point USA’s seventh annual Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida, to discuss what he did that day in 2017 and to explain why it’s so important to protect the Second Amendment. Please excuse the background music and other noise.
We also are joined by Jordan Sarmo, a faith-based musician and host of the “Speak Truth Without Fear” podcast. We talk about cancel culture and how Americans can best fight back.
Listen to this bonus episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” or read the lightly edited transcript below.
Doug Blair: We are joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Taylor Winston, an Iraq War vet whose quick thinking during the 2017 Las Vegas shooting saved countless lives. Taylor, it’s an honor and it’s great to have you on the podcast.
Taylor Winston: Thank you guys for having me. Honor.
Blair: Absolutely. So, your act of heroism on that day was instrumental in saving numerous lives. So, if it’s not too much to ask and it’s … not too sensitive, would you be able to sort of take us through what happened and what you did during that event?
Winston: Yeah, absolutely. And like we were talking earlier, we got some pumped-up music [as] we’re over here in the exhibition hall at Turning Point, but I’d like to tell you guys about my story a little bit. It gets a little rough in some patches, but we’ll keep it PG.
So, the Route 91 Music Harvest Festival is in Las Vegas, Nevada, [on] 2017, October 1st. And I had finished working with some country artists at Stoney’s [Rockin’ Country] and one of the main guys asked me if I wanted to go check out the show. And yeah, I’ll go catch the last act, which was Jason Aldean. And he gave me some media passes and I went and joined all my friends. And I just got there. All my friends had been there all day and they were left of the stage and I went to go get my first drink.
And I heard what sounded like gunfire, and no one was reacting. No one was even flinching. They thought it was maybe fireworks. But in my brain, that sounded like some pops going off. And maybe it’s just outside the festival or something, whatever. And then [I] proceeded to purchase my drink and then rejoined our friends. And I heard it again. And then I really perked up because I was for sure that was gunfire from somewhere, but still no one was moving or doing anything.
And I could see other people starting to look around too with [the] concert still full going. Jason Aldean was into his second song. And then moments later, just pure chaos, bullets started raining down into the festival. People started screaming, falling all around. I started running, my initial reaction was instant fear. It felt like you were going to die.
You heard bullets getting closer and closer and closer. And as you were running, people were falling and they were just the unfortunate ones getting hit. We got to the back fence line, and we were trying to get people over the fence. And if you’ve ever seen like the tops of the fence, they got little pokey spikes and stuff.
People’s dresses and shirts and stuff were getting caught and they were having trouble getting over and they were getting shot while they were trying to get over the fence and [that’s] something that you’ll never ever, ever not see a day in your life. I see it every day, even being here anywhere I go, I’m always thinking something bad might happen.
But, once we got over the fence, I realized that people were still getting shot and help wasn’t going to be coming fast enough, because ambulances can’t go into an active shooting zone until it’s completely done and secure. And so, I’ve been to enough festivals and I thought to go to the employee parking lot and look for a vehicle ’cause they often share vehicles and leave keys in them. And by the grace of God or some higher being, the first one I checked had keys in it.
And so, I drove back into the gunfire and started checking people to see who was the most critically injured and just loading them up in the bed of the truck and in the back seat and just cramming as many people as I could and sped off to the hospital.
Once we got to the hospital, we unloaded and no one was prepared for that scene. Just staff started going crazy. We were dumping bodies right in the lobby and the floor was pretty much painted red. And when I unloaded the last person, I looked at my friend Jennifer and said, “I have to go back.”
I was going to grab the military guy who I saw, because other people were starting to arrive doing a similar thing. There were many heroes that day. And [Jennifer] looked at me and said, “I’m going with you.” I said, “I don’t know what’s waiting. I don’t know.” We didn’t know if it was one shooter, could have been shooters on the ground. Could have been all kinds of other stuff. We have no idea, but we just knew our fellow friends and family were getting shot and killed and they needed help.
So we drove back, loaded up again, took another full load. And we did two full trips and have been credited with saving a little over two dozen people. And we then parked the truck at Stoney’s and left it and went to our friends that night for safety. And one of the big things after it was, I knew news would want to get ahold of the story.
As soon as the next day came, we were getting calls from everyone. And I told all my friends, I’m going to do all these interviews because it’s a good story to encourage others. But more importantly, we’re going to keep it about healing and the community. And sure enough, [reporters] immediately started asking me questions about gun control. “Do you think X, Y, Z would happen?”
I just would leave interviews or tell them I’m not going to do interviews if they were trying to make this about taking gun rights away. And so, now it’s three years later, fast forward, I’m finally starting to talk about my story more. And I’m going to use it to advocate for guns and be a big pro-2A influencer in the mix. And start getting into the conversation more and fight feelings with feelings, because what happened that day was pretty horrific and to still support guns I think is kind of hard to find. So…
Blair: Sure, absolutely. And thank you so much for sharing that story. It’s such an inspiration to hear what you did and you put yourself in danger. But you know, you decided to do it because it was the right thing to do. I’m curious as to what was going through your head when you decided to go back. I don’t know a lot of people who would do that. I think a lot of people would say, “I’m safe now, I’m going to stay here.” But, what was going through your head?
Winston: I just knew that was really bad. And a lot of people were dying and sometimes [you] just got to put that before yourself, and I had military training. I’m very capable. I knew I could get back and get more people to the hospital. And the whole time we thought we’d be driving. And if you were to be driving down the road and a shooter was on the ground, they could easily just start shooting your vehicle.
I started running through these scenes in my head as I was driving back. If that were to happen, I’m just going to run into him and duck below the dashboard. But, [there’s] just nothing more important than to help others and just do what you can when you can. I was very blessed to not get shot. And I was able to do quick thinking, get a vehicle, and save people. But [in] just opening a door for someone and doing good things throughout the day, everyone’s a hero.
Blair: Definitely. So, now you mentioned that you had a lot of interviews after the incident that were asking you questions about would this have happened if there had been gun control. … A lot of people after other shootings have come out in favor of gun control. There are some notable exceptions like Kyle Kashuv. What do you say to those people that say we should take away the guns?
Winston: I say to them that what they experienced was very tragic and horrific, and I don’t want to ever take away from them that their experience was really bad. And their feelings of that situation may be leaning toward that [idea that] if there were less guns, there would be less violence. But that’s the furthest thing from the truth. There’s many, many studies that show more guns equal less violence.
At the end of the day, mass shootings are horrific. And I never, ever want to have anyone experience that. But I would go through it again and again and again to protect our gun rights because [the Second Amendment] protects us from something far worse and bigger, and that’s a potential tyrannical government committing genocide.
And if you look throughout history, it repeats itself and tens of millions [die]. Russia killed, I think, 65 million of their own people in the last hundred years, China, who even knows, there is genocide being committed all [over] the world right now and America is the only country that has the means to defend itself. Not only from a domestic threat, but a foreign threat as well.
We hope we never have to get to that point. And it may not make sense right now because everyone’s so peachy and comfortable and privileged to live in America. And I just think they’re very privileged. And I would say to them, educate yourself on guns, learn more about it. And I do find that there are good laws and we have many laws that are in place already. I don’t think we need more laws. We just need more education and just more resources going into helping everyone own a gun. That’s all right.
Blair: Sure. Now I’m curious, what do you think is the state of gun rights in America right now across the country? Do you think it’s in a dangerous place? Do you think it’s in a place that we need to be concerned about?
Winston: I think mainstream media has put a magnifying glass on specific events and most places that have less gun rights are usually large cities, where there are more resources and police officers. Which then we can get into the whole conflicting argument of less police and also taking guns away, which is absolutely disastrous. Big cities are typically more privileged to have a cop or someone arrive in 10 minutes or less. They’re usually there to clean up the mess. They’re not there to prevent anything.
Criminals will get their hands on guns, no matter what. And the vast majority of America is rural. They need to protect themselves. They don’t have the privilege of having someone come help them in 10 minutes or less. It could be a half hour, hour, even more, or just don’t have help at all. And so I think the vast majority of America strongly supports the Second Amendment, [but] the news is trying to magnify that everyone’s kind of against that.
I think it’s the furthest thing from the truth. And it’s only a small, small percentage of the population and everyone just needs to be educated because history does repeat itself. We’re going down a slippery slope. And we all forget that—China, Russia, we still have enemies. They do not like America. We are a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world and that scares them. So, we need to remember that we’re all in this together. And we’re only fighting for gun rights. Not because we’re against you, but because we love you and we want to be able to protect you.
Blair: I think that’s a fantastic thing to keep in mind, that we’re not doing this because we’re these evil people. It’s because …
Winston: You’re not our enemy. We love you.
Blair: So, now that we have this idea that gun rights are kind of under attack in America, do you have any advice for people who are going through sort of adverse situations, who are fighting for these freedoms and these rights? What would you say to those people who are trying to, [are] fighting the good fight?
Winston: Anyone who is wanting to be more in the conversation, just education, education, education. It starts on the ground level with friends and family and people close to you. They just need to experience it. They need to go to a gun range or sit in a class and be taught what a gun is. It’s essentially just a tool that only comes to life once you pick it up and use it. If you use it improperly, like any other tool, it can be harmful.
I think just starting little clubs or taking people out and getting together and just talking about the conversation, versus shutting it down, is going to be the best way to. Because I experienced it all the time. I have friends who absolutely think guns are the worst thing in the world.
Then they see me handling it and they see how safe it is. And then you just start breaking them down little by little. Like, they feel safer when I have a weapon and I’m around them because they know that I will protect them. And I think a lot of people have just been very privileged and there’s, it doesn’t make sense right now, guns don’t make sense. We live, we have a great life here in America. The vast majority of us, you can literally do anything you want and resources are abundant.
I’s just up to you. I think just educate, educate, educate.
Blair: That’s fairly good advice to keep in mind, is just to be educated, find out what the truth is, right?
Winston: And don’t be abrasive if someone’s really against you. You can’t fight fire with fire. You get more bees with honey. So…
Winston: Just be sweet, take what it is. And it takes time. You’re not going to win them over in one argument, ever.
Blair: Right. It’s an ongoing process.
Winston: It’s an ongoing process. It’s taken years to get some of my friends who are Democrats to be OK with 2A, and we have good conversations. They bring up great points, but then you do a bird’s eye view and all that stuff we argue about on a lower level, like, “My child was killed in a mass shooting.” That is absolutely horrific. I can’t even describe that.
I can only speak on myself, for surviving a mass shooting myself. But to lose someone, your own child or someone [else], I understand where you’re coming from. But, you have to remove that feeling from the bigger picture that here in America, we are free … and we have all these rights because of the Second Amendment. We need people to be able to have these weapons.
Down the road, it may not be our generation, maybe three, four or five generations, but history will repeat itself at some time. And there will be violence, unfortunately.
Blair: Well, Taylor, we are running really low on time, but I really appreciate hearing from you. As a sort of last note, I always like to give our guests the opportunity to sort of say, if there’s one thing that somebody takes from this interview … what would you want them to take away?
Winston: I would like to have people walk away with two things, said it earlier: Just do what you can when you can. You don’t need to go above and beyond on everything, but just little things count every day.
And the second thing is, be less abrasive when you’re having conversations with people who have opposing opinions. You will win them over in the long term just by being the better person and being just nicer and just more [educated about guns] and you can help educate them.
Blair: That’s fantastic. I think that’s absolutely fantastic. Well, that was Taylor Winston. He’s a veteran whose quick thinking saved countless lives during the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. Thank you so much, Taylor, for joining us.
Winston: Thank you guys.
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