Weapons debate a side note in the hearings on the Uvalde shooting

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The first public hearings in Texas investigating the Uvalde school massacre they focused on a cascade of law enforcement errors, on the safety of school buildings and mental health care with only scant mentions of the AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle of the marksman and weapon reform.

The day after the Texas Chief of State Police called the law enforcement response to the May 24 massacre an “absolute failure,” Texas senators on Wednesday turned their attention to mental health funding for schools and the shortage of mental health counselors and providers.

Only towards the end of Wednesday’s hearing at the Texas Capitol was there much talk of gun laws. And even then he received few accolades.

No public officials or Uvalde’s family testified during the two-day hearing.

The botched response to the attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead before police killed the killer at Robb Elementary infuriated the nation, and a recent wave of deadly mass shootings has renewed the drive for more gun laws. By the end of the week, the US Senate could pass new legislation that would strengthen background checks for younger firearms buyers and require more sellers to conduct background checks.

But the Republican-dominated committee that looked into the Uvalde tragedy seemed to have little appetite for new gun laws, even after a string of mass shootings in Texas that killed more than 85 people over the past five years, at an El Paso Walmart. , a church in Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe High School outside Houston, and in the oil region of West Texas.

The Republican-controlled state legislature has spent the past decade easing restrictions. Texas does not need a permit to carry a long rifle like the one used in Uvalde. Last year, lawmakers made it legal for anyone 21 or older to carry a gun in public without a license, background check, or training.

Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, told the committee that tighter gun controls may have prevented mass shootings in the past in Texas and urged state lawmakers to consider a so-called “red flag” law and call for controls. on the background of private firearms sales.

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“I’ve never seen anything like this in the past month in terms of outrage, despair and heartbreak,” said Golden. “Texas is facing a crisis, which we know we have faced for a long time.”

He received no questions from Republican lawmakers in the panel.

Outside the Senate chamber, nearly two dozen members of the arms control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America held placards criticizing Republican Governor Greg Abbott and urging lawmakers to adopt new restrictions on the sale and ownership of weapons. .

“We are tired of these committees and roundtables that have occurred after every mass shooting in Texas,” said Austin’s Melanie Greene. “They talk about what went wrong and it’s usually anything but guns. We are tired of all the chatter and want some action. “

Among the changes desired by the group is raising the age of gun ownership from 18 to 21. The gunman from Robb Elementary was a former student, Salvador Ramos, who bought the weapon used in the attack shortly after his 18th birthday.

Greene was not optimistic. “This committee is a dog and pony show. It is a performative political theater. But we will not give up, “said Greene.

Republican Senator Bob Hall tried to avoid any gun talk.

“It doesn’t take a gun. This man has had enough time to do it with his hands or with a baseball bat. And so it’s not the gun, it’s the person, ”Hall said Tuesday, when hearings began in Austin, 160 miles (260 kilometers) from Uvalde.

Senator Royce West, one of the Democrats on the Senate panel, said that “without having a discussion of those rights and limitations associated with them, this will be an incomplete discussion.”

However, it is the delays and errors in law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School which are the focus of federal, state and local investigations.

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said on Tuesday that police had enough officers and firepower in the school to stop Ramos three minutes after he entered the building, but instead they waited over an hour. before storming the courtroom and killing him.

McCraw outlined a series of missed opportunities, communication interruptions and mistakes based on a survey that included approximately 700 interviews. He also directed much of the blame to Pete Arredondo, the police chief of the Uvalde School District who according to McCraw was the incumbent commander.

Arredondo, who testified Tuesday in a closed-door hearing of a Texas House committee, said he did not hold himself accountable. and assumed that someone else had taken over. He declined repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press.

The mayor of Uvalde dismissed McCraw’s blame on Arredondo, saying the Public Security Department repeatedly spread false information about the shooting and ignored the role of its own officers.

Uvalde Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell said Wednesday that he had placed Arredondo on administrative leave. because the facts of what happened remain unclear. In a statement, Harrell did not address Arredondo’s actions as an on-site commander during the attack, but said he did not know when details of multiple investigations into law enforcement’s response to the killings would be revealed.

Public pressure has increased for state and local officials to release further information.

Also on Wednesday, state Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Texas Department of Public Safety to hand over documents related to his investigation into the shooting. The families of the victims “deserve to know the complete and unalterable truth about what happened that day,” a Democrat attorney wrote in the case.

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer John Seewer of Toledo, Ohio contributed to this report.

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Find more AP coverage of Uvalde school filming: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting