By JIM VERTUNO and JAKE BLEIBERG – Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The first public hearings in Texas examining the massacre at the Uvalde school focused on a cascade of law enforcement blunders, school building safety and mental health care with only a few mentions of rifle reform and AR-15 style semi-automatic weapons from the shooter.
One day after Texas state police chief called law enforcement response to May 24 massacre a “dismal failure”, On Wednesday, Texas senators turned their attention to funding for mental health in schools and the shortage of mental health counselors and providers.
So far, lawmakers and witnesses in Texas Capitol hearings have barely mentioned the gun debate. In one of the rare times this happened, Democratic Senator Jose Menendez asked Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, if the attacker could have done so much damage with a bat, knife or gun.
The failed response to the attack that left 19 children and two teachers Death at Robb Elementary has infuriated the nation, and a recent spate of deadly mass shootings has renewed the push for more gun laws.
At the end of the week, the US Senate could pass new legislation it would strengthen background checks on younger gun buyers and force more sellers to complete background checks.
Wednesday’s hearing in Texas had barely begun as lawmakers who were not on the committee sparred over what kind of firearms should be allowed in the state Capitol, where the guns are located. handguns and not guns. Representative Gina Hinojosa, a Democrat, tweeted that lawmakers should “be realistic about our ability to protect the public from AR-15s.” Briscoe Cain, one of the more conservative members of the House, responded that long guns “shouldn’t be banned on Capitol Hill.”
Outside the Texas Senate chamber, nearly two dozen members of the gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America lined the entrance, holding signs criticizing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and urging lawmakers to consider new restrictions on the sale and possession of firearms.
“We’re sick 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 action.
The group wants lawmakers to consider raising the age of gun ownership from 18 to 21, background checks on all gun sales and passing a ‘red flag’ law to allow authorities to take arms from those considered a danger. Robb Elementary’s shooter was 18-year-old former student Salvador Ramos.
Greene is not optimistic that any of these ideas will not be adopted by the Republican-dominated panel.
“This committee is a show of dogs and ponies. It is performative political theatre. But we’re not going to give up,” Greene said.
Texas does not require a permit to carry a long gun like the one used at 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.
The state’s Republican-dominated legislature has spent the last decade rolling back restrictions on handguns even as Texas suffered a series of mass shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, a church in Sutherland Springs and at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston.
Republican Senator Bob Hall tried to distance the opening hearing from any discussion of guns.
“It doesn’t take a gun. This man 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.
Senator Royce West, one of the few Democrats on the Senate panel to raise the issue of gun control, said that “without having a discussion of these rights and the limits associated with them, it will be an incomplete discussion. “.
Yet it is the delays and errors in law enforcement’s response to Robb Elementary School that are the subject of federal, state and local investigations.
The state’s public safety chief said on Tuesday that police had enough officers and firepower at the school to arrest Ramos three minutes after he entered the building, but they instead waited over an hour before storming the classroom and killing him.
McCraw described a series of missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and mistakes based on a survey that included approximately 700 interviews. He also directed much of the blame on Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo who, according to McCraw, was the commander in charge.
Arredondo, who testified in a closed hearing by a Texas House committee on Tuesday, said he did not consider himself responsible and assumed that someone else had taken over. He declined repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press.
The mayor of Uvalde pushed back on McCraw’s testimony blaming Arredondo, saying the Department of Public Safety repeatedly spread false information about the shooting and glossed over the role of its own officers.
Public pressure has grown for state and local authorities to release more information.
On Wednesday, State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Texas Department of Public Safety to turn over its records related to its investigation into the shooting. The families of the victims “deserve to know the full and unalterable truth about what happened that day,” a lawyer for the Democrat 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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