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Texas lawmakers urged to ‘do something’ about gun violence

The sister of a girl killed at Robb Elementary School told legislators they can honor victims by passing legislation aimed at preventing another tragedy like the one in Uvalde.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The sister of a young girl fatally shot at her elementary school in Uvalde a month ago pleaded with Texas lawmakers on Thursday to pass gun control legislation.

“I shouldn't have to be here today,” said Jazmin Cazares, 17, who lost her 9-year-old sister Jackie in the Robb Elementary School shooting on May 24. “I should be at home watching a movie with my sister, it's summer.”

Cazares testified that the security measures in place at the Uvalde school failed her sister. She specifically pointed to a lack of monitoring for threats on social media, adequate barriers around the school or locked classrooms. The Texas Department of Public Safety reported Tuesday that the classroom door the shooter entered did not properly lock. 

“I’m here begging for you guys to do something,” Cazares said. “I’m here to honor Jackie, her friends, their families, my family and my community. You can honor them too by passing gun safety legislation.”

Cazares' testimony came in a joint hearing of the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety and the Committee on Youth Health and Safety.

“School starts in 45 days and we want to be able to report to the public that we have taken action and that their schools are safe,” said Representative James White, a Hillister Republican and chairman of the homeland security and public safety committee.

Cazares asked the committees to ensure that 18-year-olds not be permitted to purchase weapons such as the AR-15 assault rifles that killed her sister, 18 other children and two teachers.

She said that she has been doing active shooter drills in school since she was in pre-kindergarten, but now, going into her senior year of high school, she is scared to return to classes.

Sharing Cazares' sentiment, police chiefs from across the Lone Star State told lawmakers about reforms needed to prevent tragedies like Uvalde from happening again. 

Jimmy Perdue, president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, offered his apologies to the families affected by the Uvalde shooting.

“We as a profession failed, we failed to protect the most innocent in our community from evil,” he said.

Perdue told lawmakers that the TPCA supports “reasonable gun reform,” including raising the age to purchase an assault weapon to 21. Another recommendation was to criminalize so-called straw purchases, which is when someone who is legally allowed to purchase a gun buys one for someone who is barred from doing so.

San Marcos Police Chief Stan Standridge recommended the committee require all peace officers to take additional training and end “check-box training.” In addition, Blanco Police Chief Scot Rubin asked for more funding and resources for officers on mental health response training.

The police chiefs said that what happened in Uvalde was not an equipment failure but a commitment failure.

During a Texas Senate committee hearing Tuesday, Steve McCraw, director of the Department of Public Safety, told lawmakers that the law enforcement response to the shooting was an “abject failure” and “set the profession back by a decade.”

According to McCraw, officers responding to the shooting at Robb Elementary could have ended the killing within three minutes of the shooter entering the school.

The school district's police chief Pete Arredondo, who served as the incident commander during the shooting has been placed on administrative leave after McCraw and residents placed much of the blame for the shooting on him.

Texas state Representative Tracy King, a Democrat who represents Uvalde, is joined by colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus on Thursday, June 23, 2022, asking Republican Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session to address gun violence. (Kirk McDaniel/Courthouse News)

The facts about the shooting have at times been hard to uncover and some were initially incorrect when first reported. McCraw helped clarify why inaccurate information was promulgated days after the shooting during his testimony Tuesday. However, records requests have been ignored or denied. Roland Gutierrez, the Democratic state senator who represents Uvalde, sued the Department of Public Safety to obtain records relating to the police actions during the shooting. 

“In the wake of this massacre, the State of Texas has completely failed to provide the community of Uvalde with truthful answers,” Gutierrez said in a statement. “From the very start, the response to this awful gun tragedy has been full of misinformation and outright lies from our government.”

Texas House Democrats have called on Republican Governor Greg Abbott to bring the legislature back for a special session to address gun violence before the start of the next school year in August. 

“Texans want commonsense gun safety legislation and they want it now," said House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner of Grand Prairie at a press conference Thursday morning. “Governor Abbott is the only person who can bring change.”

If called back to Austin, Democrats have set their sights on enacting gun control measures such as extreme risk protective orders– also known as red-flag laws– as well as closing loopholes to purchasing firearms, increasing the age to buy AR-15 style weapons to 21 and requiring stolen weapons be reported.

Abbott has not indicated he plans to call a special session and Republican lawmakers, who control both the Texas House and Senate, have voiced opposition to such proposals.

Just before Thursday’s committee meeting, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling overturning a New York gun law that restricted who can carry a concealed weapon in public. Ruling 6-3 on party lines, the conservative majority found that the law violated the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens to carry a weapon for self-defense.

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