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Uvalde community continues push for gun policy changes one year later

Families and politicians are still pushing for gun reform in Uvalde, Texas, one year after the shattering tragedy at Robb Elementary.
Uvalde community continues push for gun policy changes one year later
Posted at 4:55 PM, May 24, 2023

One year after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the legislature is poised to effectively do nothing on the topic of gun control with five days from ending its official session.

In 2022, the Uvalde and Buffalo, New York, mass shootings happened ten days apart.

A shooter rampaged through a Buffalo supermarket, killing 10 people, targeting victims because they were Black. Within weeks, New York state lawmakers passed a bill to restrict rifle sales to those 21 years or older, along with other new restrictions. Upon signing the legislation on June 6, 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul said, "Thoughts and prayers won't fix this, but taking strong action will."

In Uvalde, a rifle-wielding teenager walked into Robb Elementary School May 24, 2022 and unleashed a maelstrom of bullets into classrooms, killing 19 school children and two teachers.

The gunman legally purchased his firearms, despite red flags in his past regarding mental health and family issues. One of the worst mass shootings since Sandy Hook also showed a botched police response in which hundreds of heavily armed officers waited to engage the shooter for more than an hour after they arrived.

At the time, victims' families, Democrats and gun control advocates implored Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session, but he dismissed those requests. In his tenure, Gov. Abbott has signed laws loosening gun restrictions and doing away with the need to have a license to carry a handgun in the Lone Star state.

So far in 2023, the activity from the Texas statehouse on the issue of gun control and safety amounts to nothing.

"We have to be able to regulate the guns that are killing people indiscriminately, and it is the guns," said Texas State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, whose district contains Uvalde. 

Gutierrez signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Texas Department of Public Safety to view all evidence in the investigation. He says the video from the response haunts him every day with the blood and gore inflicted from the high velocity rounds deployed by the gunman. 

"You can hear the responding police officers heaving and throwing up as they see the piles of children's bodies in the classroom," he said, which he reiterated during a May 18, 2022 hearing on the Texas Senate floor.

Gutierrez has filed 21 gun safety bills since the Uvalde shooting one year ago. Not one is expected to make it to Gov. Abbott's desk this session.

SEE MORE: New Report Details Missed Chances To Stop Uvalde, Texas, Shooting

In response to his bills being all but ignored, Gutierrez has tried tacking gun regulations as amendments to bills. 

On May 18, 2023 he tried to insert a provision to raise the age of rifle purchases from 18 years old to 21. He was stonewalled by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick when a Republican senator called a point of order on his amendment, and, with a bang of the gavel, Gutierrez' latest effort was dismissed. He delivered an impassioned speech after saying that he speaks for the parents of victims — many who've become politically active.

"It wasn't me having them coming to knock on your door. It's all they had left to be able to come to you and advocate that this wouldn't happen again," Gutierrez said.

Reflecting on the failures of lawmakers this session, Sen. Gutierrez said at a Tuesday news conference at the state capitol: "Dan Patrick doesn't care about our kids. He doesn't care about what's happening in our state. He only cares about his own ambition. He's going to break every rule there is. He's not gonna have this discussion."

GOP lawmakers in Texas have their own solutions, but none involve restricting access to firearms. Their view to prevent mass shootings is to fortify schools.

Republicans have proposed legislation that would require armed security officers on school campuses, mandate active shooter plans, put panic buttons in classrooms and incentivize school employees to get certified to carry firearms by offering them a $25,000 stipend.

Every attempt this session to pass anything resembling gun control has run into Republican opposition.

Uvalde parents Brett and Nikki Cross — who lost their ten-year-old son, Uziyah Garcia — were not phased by the odds against them.

"I just don't want any of you to sit here — where I'm sitting. I don't want you to have to identify your child's body based on what he was wearing to school that day," Nikki told lawmakers at a Select Public Safety Committee hearing April 18, 2023. The Crosses made their impassioned plea for HB 2744 to make it out of committee. The bill raises the age of rifle purchases from 18 years old to 21. They waited 16 hours in the state house and their testimony was followed by lengthy rebuttals from Second Amendment advocates and an NRA-sponsored researcher.

Scripps News later followed them as they lobbied lawmakers to pass HB 2744 in late April.

Most offices heard them out, except the chair of the committee. Staffers for Republican Ryan Guillen, a representative from Starr County, Texas, told the Cross couple he was too busy to talk.

SEE MORE: Uvalde, Texas shares concept for new elementary school after shooting

Parents from another mass shooting at a Texas school joined them. 

Rhonda Hart — whose daughter, Kim Vaughn, was killed by a gunman at Santa Fe High School five years ago — helped them try to convince lawmakers. Christina Delgado, another mom from the Santa Fe community who was moved by the gun tragedy to become a gun violence prevention advocate, joined them too.

"It's sad to be a broken record, but if we have to be to save another community, we will do so," Delgado said.

The bill made it out of committee but lawmakers could not reach an agreement, so it wasn't scheduled for a vote in the full House. Democratic lawmakers tried to add it as an amendment, but Republicans stripped it.

Manuel Rizzo is the uncle of Robb Elementary shooting victim Jacklyn Cazares.

"They're not looking at the deaths of our children — the children in Uvalde and the teachers — as something that's important," he said. "They don't want to prioritize it. We're going to continue the fight."

The Uvalde parents knew their push for new gun restrictions was going to be tough. Logistically, it's difficult to pass new laws in Texas with the legislature meeting every other year. A governor can call a special session to pass things they may prioritize, but so far, Gov. Abbott has expressed zero interest in new gun laws.

The steadfast Republican refusal to approach gun control appears to be contrary to voters, even within their own ranks.

A University of Texas poll released in May showed 76% of voters in the state support "raising the legal age to purchase any firearm from 18 years of age to 21 years of age."

Republicans in the survey backed the proposal 64% to 31%.

Sherri Greenberg is a former Texas House member, who is now a University of Texas professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. She says gerrymandering of districts has tilted Republicans further to the right, making them non responsive to overall voters on a topic like gun control.

"And when a pendulum swings too far one way or the other, you do start to see course corrections," she said. "Will we see that? Will we see changes on some of these issues?"

Jacklyn Cazares' uncle says he's not done campaigning.

"Jackie doesn't want us to give up," Rizzo said, holding back tears. "And I will tell you that I hope that I get to make it to where she's at today and she receives me and tells me, 'Thank you, Godfather, for not giving up.' We will never give up."

Republicans have sponsored legislation that curbs some gun rights, including bills that would require a court decision on someone's mental health to appear on gun background checks, ban devices that can modify handguns into automatic firearms and outlaw "straw purchases," which is when someone buys a gun for someone else who is not allowed to purchase one. But Democrats say the efforts do too little, and some are already codified under federal law.

Scripps News asked for responses from the lieutenant governor and the governor regarding the criticism Uvalde families have raised, but they have not yet responded to our inquiries.

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