AP

Gun debate a side note in hearings on Uvalde shooting

Jun 22, 2022, 3:27 AM | Updated: Jun 23, 2022, 9:16 am

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The first public hearings in Texas looking into the Uvalde school massacre have focused on a cascade of law enforcement blunders, school building safety and mental health care with only scant mentions of the shooter’s AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and gun reform.

A day after the head of the Texas state police called the law enforcement response to the May 24 slaughter an “abject failure,” Texas senators on Wednesday turned their attention to mental health funding for schools and a shortage of counselors and mental health providers.

Only near the end of Wednesday’s hearing in the Texas Capitol was there much talk about gun laws. And even then it received little acknowledgement.

No public officials or families from Uvalde testified during the two days of hearings.

The bungled response to the attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead before police killed the shooter at Robb Elementary has infuriated the nation, and a recent wave of deadly mass shootings has renewed a push for more gun laws. By week’s end, the U.S. Senate could pass new legislation that would toughen background checks for the youngest firearms buyers and require more sellers to conduct background checks.

But the Republican-dominated committee examining the tragedy in Uvalde appeared to have little appetite for new guns 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, Santa Fe High School outside Houston and in West Texas oil country.

The state’s Republican-controlled legislature has spent the last decade chipping away at restrictions. Texas doesn’t require a permit 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 handgun 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 past 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 the outrage, despair and heartbreak,” Golden said. “Texas is facing a crisis, one we know we’ve faced a long time.”

She got no questions from the Republican lawmakers on the panel.

Outside the Senate chamber, nearly two dozen members of the gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America held signs criticizing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and urging lawmakers to take up new restrictions on gun sales and ownership.

“We are tired of these do-nothing committees and roundtables that have been happening after every mass shooting in Texas,” said Melanie Greene of Austin. “They talk about what went wrong and it’s usually everything but guns. We’re tired of all the talk and we want some action.”

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

Greene was not optimistic. “This committee is a dog-and-pony show. It’s performative political theater. But we’re not going to give up,” Greene said.

Republican Sen. Bob Hall tried to steer away from any talk about guns.

“It doesn’t take a gun. This man had enough 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’s Democrats, said that “without having a discussion about those rights and limits associated therewith, this will be an incomplete discussion.”

Still, it’s the delays and mistakes in the law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School that are the focus of federal, state and local investigations.

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

McCraw outlined a series of missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and errors based on an investigation that has included roughly 700 interviews. He also directed much of the blame at Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief who McCraw said was the commander in charge.

Arredondo, who testified Tuesday at a closed-door hearing of a Texas House committee, has said he didn’t consider himself in charge and assumed someone else had taken control. He has declined repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Uvalde’s mayor pushed back on McCraw’s casting blame on Arredondo, saying the Department of Public Safety has repeatedly put out false information about the shooting and glossed over the role of its own officers.

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

Public pressure has grown for state and local officials to release more information.

Also on Wednesday, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Texas Department of Public Safety to turn over records related to its investigation into the shooting. The victims’ families “deserve to know the complete, unalterable truth about what happened that day,” a lawyer for the Democrat wrote in the suit.

___

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

This photo provided by Randy Shannon shows Mooney Falls on the Havasupai reservation outside the vi...

Associated Press

Dozens report illness after trips to waterfalls near Grand Canyon

Dozens of hikers say they fell ill during trips to a popular Arizona tourist destination that features towering blue-green waterfalls deep in a gorge neighboring Grand Canyon National Park.

13 hours ago

Mugshot of Rudy Giuliani, who was processed Monday, June 10, 2024, in the Arizona fake electors cas...

Associated Press

Rudy Giuliani posts $10K cash bond after being processed in Arizona fake electors case

Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and Donald Trump attorney, was processed Monday in the Arizona fake electors case.

3 days ago

FILE - White House former chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters at the White House, Wed...

Associated Press

Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows pleads not guilty in Arizona fake elector case

Former Donald Trump presidential chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump 2020 Election Day operations director Michael Roman pleaded not guilty Friday in Phoenix to nine felony charges for their roles in an effort to overturn Trump's Arizona election loss to Joe Biden.

7 days ago

deadly heat wave last summer...

Associated Press

After a deadly heat wave last summer, metro Phoenix is changing tactics

Fresh memories of the deadly heat wave last summer have led Arizona authorities to launch new tactics ahead of summer 2024.

17 days ago

A Yuma man has been arrested for allegedly starting a wildfire in a national wildlife preserve near...

Associated Press

Man accused of starting wildfire in national wildlife preserve in Yuma

A Yuma man has been arrested for allegedly starting a wildfire in a national wildlife preserve near the California border.

18 days ago

Colorado River settlement center of new Navajo Nation push...

Associated Press

Tribes say their future is at stake as they push for Congress to consider Colorado River settlement

Navajo officials are celebrating the signing of legislation outlining a proposed Colorado River settlement that would ensure water rights.

21 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Gun debate a side note in hearings on Uvalde shooting