By JIM VERTUNO and JAKE BLEIBERG – Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The first public hearings in Texas over the Uvalde school massacre focused on a cascade of law enforcement, school building safety and mental health blunders, with few mentions of the AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and weapons reform.
A day after the Texas state police chief called law enforcement’s response to the May 24 massacre an “abject failure,” Texas senators turned their attention on Wednesday to funding mental health services for schools and a shortage of counselors and counselors. mental health providers.
It wasn’t until the end of Wednesday’s hearing at the Texas Capitol that there was much talk about gun laws. And even then it received little recognition.
The failed response to the attack that killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary has infuriated the nation, and a recent spate of deadly mass shootings has renewed the push for more gun laws. By the end of the week, the US Senate could pass new legislation that would tighten background checks for the youngest firearms buyers and require more sellers to conduct background checks.
But the Republican-dominated commission investigating the tragedy in Uvalde seemed unwilling to pass new gun laws, even after a series of mass shootings in Texas that killed more than 85 people in the past five years — at an El Paso Walmart, a church in Sutherland Springs, a Santa Fe High School outside of Houston and in the oil country of West Texas.
The Republican-controlled state legislature has lifted the restrictions over the past decade. Texas does not require a license to carry a long rifle like the one used in Uvalde. Last year, lawmakers made it legal for anyone 21 and 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 stricter gun controls may have prevented previous mass shootings in Texas and urged state lawmakers to consider a so-called “red flag” law and require background checks on private firearms sales.
“I’ve never seen anything like this past month in terms of outrage, despair and heartbreak,” Golden said. “Texas is facing a crisis, one that we know we’ve been through for a long time.”
She received no questions from Republican lawmakers on the panel.
Outside the Senate Chamber, nearly two dozen members of America’s gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense held placards criticizing Republican government leader Greg Abbott and urging lawmakers to include new restrictions on gun sales and ownership.
“We’re tired of these do-nothing committees and roundtables that happen after every mass shooting in Texas,” said Melanie Greene of Austin. “They talk about what went wrong and it’s usually anything but guns. We are tired of all the talk and we want some action.”
One of the changes the group wants is to raise the gun ownership age from 18 to 21. The Robb Elementary shooter was an 18-year-old former student, Salvador Ramos.
Greene was not optimistic. “This committee is a dog-and-pony show. It is performative political theatre. But we’re not giving up,” Greene says.
Republican Senator Bob Hall tried to avoid any talk about guns.
“It doesn’t take a gun. This man had plenty of time to do it with his hands or a baseball bat. And so it’s not the gun, it’s the person,” Hall said Tuesday, as the hearings began in Austin, 160 miles (260 kilometers) from Uvalde.
sen. Royce West, one of the Senate Panel Democrats, said that “without a discussion about the rights and restrictions that come with it, this will be an incomplete discussion.”
Yet it is the delays and errors in law enforcement’s response to Robb Elementary School that have been 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 at the school to stop Ramos three minutes after he entered the building, but instead waited more than an hour before they stormed the classroom and killed him.
McCraw outlined a series of missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and errors based on a survey that included about 700 interviews. He also blamed much of it on Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief, who McCraw said was the commander.
Arredondo, who testified on Tuesday at a closed-door hearing of a Texas House committee, has said he wasn’t controlling himself and assumed someone else had taken control. He has declined repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press.
The mayor of Uvalde pushed back McCraw’s blame on Arredondo, saying the Department of Public Security has repeatedly released false information about the shooting and obscured the role of its own agents.
Public pressure on state and local officials has increased to release more information.
On Wednesday, Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, filed a lawsuit to force the Texas Department of Public Safety to hand over data about the investigation into the shooting. The victims’ families “deserve to know the full, unchanging truth about what happened that day,” a Democrat attorney wrote in the lawsuit.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.
Find more AP coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting
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