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The parents of these Uvalde victims want to ban AR-15s. Will America listen?

Those touched by Uvalde shooting want reform, but Republicans in Texas and beyond won’t budge

Josh Marcus,Eric Garcia
Wednesday 01 June 2022 17:44 BST
Leer en Español

The 19 students and two teachers killed during the mass school shooting in Uvalde last week all had different stories, hopes and dreams. But one thing many of their surviving family members share is a desire to see the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle used in the massacre outlawed or severely restricted.

The gun, a civilian version of a gun American troops used in Vietnam, is both extremely popular among consumers and mass shooters, who used some version of an AR-15-style rifle during the massacres in Buffalo, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Christchurch, and many more cities around the world that now evoke the image of horrific gun violence.

But many parents in Uvalde and legislators around the country are trying to take this gun off the streets after the Texas massacre, the second deadliest school shooting in US history.

“Assault rifles shouldn’t be sold at all, period,” according to Jessie Rodriguez, 53, whose 10-year-old daughter Annabell was killed in the shooting.

“We understand having an assault rifle for the military; not personal use. Not to gun down our children … all the children gunned down like they were animals,” he told The Independent.

Uvalde, Texas, is a conservative town that voted for Donald Trump twice, in a red state where gun ownership is nearly a religion. Like many largely Hispanic counties--72 per cent of its residents are Hispanic or Latino according to the US Census--Mr Trump grew his margin of victory in 2020 when he beat Joe Biden by double digits.

But those touched by the shooting say America shouldn’t keep a weapon of war on the street. Some have pushed back against GOP state leaders like staunch gun advocate Governor Greg Abbott, who has maintained that easy access to weapons isn’t the problem.

Families blame pro-gun politicians

Kimberly Mata Rubio and Felix Rubio’s 10-year-old Alexandria was one of the slain. The parents refused an offer to meet with the governor after the shooting.

“We live in this really small town in this red state, and everyone keeps telling us, you know, that it’s not the time to be political, but it is — it is,” Ms Rubio told The New York Times. “Don’t let this happen to anybody else.”

Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, 10, was one of the 19 children killed Tuesday during the Uvalde, Texas school shooting. (Facebook/Kimberly Mata-Rubio)

Mr Rubio is a deputy at the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office, where he told the Times that gun control isn’t always a popular opinion. The family hopes reforms are made in their daughter’s name, as she one day hoped to be a lawyer and help people.

“Our baby wanted to be a lawyer; she wanted to make a difference,” Ms Rubio added. “Please make sure she makes one now.”

Rolando Reyes, grandfather of Uvalde gunman Salvador Ramos, has also joined the call to limit gun access.

“I hate when I see all the news of all those people that get shot, I’m against all that. I say, ‘Why do they let these people buy guns and all that?”, he said following the shooting.

Not everyone is advocating for a total shutdown on AR-15s in the manner of countries like Canada which is attempting to pass a mandatory assault weapon buyback initiative.

Vincent Salazar, right, father of Layla Salazar, weeps while kneeling in front of a cross with his daughter's name at a memorial site for the victims killed in this week's elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Friday, May 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills) (AP)

Vincent Salazar, 66, whose granddaughter Layla was among those killed, has said he thinks officials should raise the age of gun ownership for weapons like the AR-15. Under Texas’s lenient gun laws, anyone over 18 can carry a rifle in public with minimal requirements.

“This freedom to carry, what did it do?” Mr Salazar said last week. “It killed.”

Javier Cazares, father of the deceased Jackie Cazares, 10, is an Army veteran and gun owner himself.

He told the Associated Press that selling assault rifles to teenagers is “ridiculous”.

Despite Republican control in Texas, majorities of Texans don’t support some of the state’s most permissive gun laws. Majorities support universal background checks and opposed allowing handgun owners to bear arms in public without a license or training.

Whether these sentiments get turned into action on the state or national level remains highly doubtful.

Some Texas Democrats speaking out against AR-15s, such as state senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, and gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who memorably disrupted a press conference of Texas officials after the shooting to demand more action.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor this year, interrupts a news conference headed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in Uvalde, Texas Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

"I think we are fools to believe anything other than that these weapons of war will continued to be used with greater frequency against our fellow Americans," Mr O’Rourke said during a recent town hall.

"It’s why I’ve taken the position that I don’t think we should have AR-15s and AK-47s in civilian life," he added. "They belong on a battlefield."

And families of past shooting victims have also added their voices to the call to do more.

“Take your heartache, your fear, your anger and sadness, and channel them into action. We must take action today and every day until this epidemic of violence ends. Call on your elected officials to pass commonsense legislation now that protects the safety and lives of children,” a group of Sandy Hook parents wrote after the shooting, calling to ban assault rifles among a roster of wider gun control measures.

“This can be done while upholding second amendment rights. Now is the time to take bold action; as a country, how much longer can we stand by while innocent children continue to be killed?”

GOP opposition

But leaders like Governor Abbott, who has ushered in a host of laws making it easy to buy and carry guns in public with minimal requirements, have written off new gun control measures in the wake of Uvalde.

“The ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years, and think about during the time over the course of that 60 years, we have not had episodes like this,” Mr Abbott said at a press conference the day after the shooting.

“One thing that has substantially changed,” he continued, “is the status of mental health in our communities. What I do know is this: we as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health. Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge, period.”

Uvalde shooter Salvador Ramos posted photos of his guns online (instagram)

US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas criticised Democratic efforts on gun legislation.

“Inevitably when there’s a murder of this kind, you see politicians try to politicize it, you see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said  after the shooting. “That doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime.”

Such sentiments have inspired an air of pessimism among some Uvalde families.

Angel Garza, stepfather of the slain Amerie Jo, told CBS he’s not confident anything will change.

“Nothing changes,” he said. “Nothing’s going to change. This always happens in a small town. Nobody expects anything bad to happen. Then it happens and everybody wants to make changes to prevent it from happening, and then it dies down a little bit, then it happens again. It’s a cycle.”

Signs are slightly more encouraging for reform at the federal level, though many remain skeptical there as well.

The birth and death of an assault weapons ban

Mr Biden for his part has signaled optimism that Republicans will be moved enough by the sheer atrocity of the shooting in Texas.

“I think things have gotten so bad that everybody is getting more rational about it,” the president told reporters on Monday, saying he thought  “rational Republicans” might join him at the table.

Mr Biden is in the unique position of having passed the most recent successful ban on assault rifles. In 1994, then-Senator Biden wrote the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act signed by President Bill Clinton.

While many progressives have since criticised the law for increasing mass incarceration, particularly for people of colour, it also made it “unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon” and specifically named the Colt AR-15.

But the provision lasted for only a decade. In 2004, George W Bush, then running for re-election, said he would reauthorise a ban passed by Congress but The Los Angeles Times reported at the time that he did not aggressively lobby for its extension.

In 2013, after a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, efforts to regulate assault weapons never got off the ground and failed to secure even a majority vote in the Senate. Rather, the Senate preferred to focus on legislation by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to expand background checks. But that legislation failed to clear a filibuster.

How many ‘rational’ Republicans are there?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has tasked colleague John Cornyn of Texas with helping lead negotiations with Democrats, though both Republicans have a long record of opposing new forms of gun legislation and taking money from gun lobby groups like the National Rifle Association.

Following the shooting, Mr Cornyn, a former associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court and Mr Abbott’s predecessor as attorney general, said Uvalde was “not an excuse to infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens”.

Instead of big changes to gun laws, many Republicans have pushed for further school security upgrades and arming teachers, even though Uvalde had a long record of investing in “school hardening” and a school police force, neither of which made much difference during the shooting.

Last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who authored the 1994 ban with Mr Biden, told The Independent how depressing working on gun legislation can be.

“I see all of what’s happening in the United States because of guns, and it’s deeply concerning,” she said. “It’s the one thing in American policy that is really disillusioning. That we cannot rise above that attraction. And this is the result. Part of it.”

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