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Weapons debate is lacking from hearings in Texas about Uvalde shooting

Written by Javed Iqbal

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The first public hearings in Texas are taking a closer look the massacre at Uvalde School has focused on a cascade of law enforcement errors, school building security and mental health care with only a few mentions of the shooter’s AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and pistol reform.

A day after the head of the Texas State Police called the police response to the May 24 massacre an “absorbing failure” Texas senators on Wednesday turned their attention to mental health funding for schools and the lack of counselors and mental health providers.

So far, lawmakers and witnesses at the hearings in the Texas Capitol have barely mentioned the gun debate. During one of the few times it appeared, Democratic Senator Jose Menendez asked Colonel Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, if the attacker could have done so much damage with a bat, a knife or a revolver.

“No,” McCraw said.

The confused reaction to the attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead at Robb Elementary has made the nation furious, and a recent wave of deadly mass shootings has renewed a push for more gun laws.

By the end of the week, the U.S. Senate be able to adopt new legislation it would sharpen background checks for the youngest arms buyers and require more vendors to do background checks.

The hearing Wednesday in Texas had barely begun when lawmakers who were not on the committee sparred over what kind of weapons should be allowed in the state Capitol, where handguns are, and do not rifles. Rep. Gina Hinojosa, a Democrat, tweeted that lawmakers should “be real about our ability to protect the public from AR-15s.” Briscoe Cain, one of the most conservative members of the House, responded that long rifles “should not be banned at the Capitol.”

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

“We are tired of these do-nothing committees and round tables that have taken place after every mass shooting in Texas,” said Melanie Greene of Austin. “They talk about what went wrong, and it’s usually anything but weapons. We’m tired of all the talk and we want some action.”

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The group wants legislators to consider raising the age of gun ownership from 18 to 21 years, background checks on all gun sales and a ‘red flag’ law allowing authorities to take guns from those considered a danger. The turret man at Robb Elementary was an 18-year-old former student, Salvador Ramos.

Greene is not optimistic that any of these ideas will be embraced by the Republican-dominated panel.

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

Texas does not require permission 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 weapon in public without a license, background check or education.

The state-Republican-dominated Legislative Assembly has spent the past decade cutting back on restrictions on small arms, though Texas has suffered a series of mass shootings at an El Paso Walmart, a church in Sutherland Springs, and at Santa Fe High School outside Houston.

Republican Senator Bob Hall tried to steer the opening hearing away from any talk of guns.

“It does not require a gun. This man had enough time to do it with his hands or a baseball bat. So it’s not the gun, it’s the person,” Hall said Tuesday.

Senator Royce West, one of the Senate panel few Democrats who raised the issue of gun control, said that “without having a discussion of these rights and the restrictions associated with it, this would be an incomplete discussion.”

Yet it is the delays and errors in the reaction of the law enforcement at Robb primary school which is the focus of federal, state, and local investigations.

The state’s public security chief 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 number of missed opportunities, communication crashes and errors based on a study that has included about 700 interviews. He also addressed much of the blame Pete Arredondo, Uvalde School District Police Chief as McCraw said it was the commander-in-chief.

Arredondo, who testified Tuesday at a closed hearing in a Texas House committee, has said he did not consider himself responsible and assumed that someone else had taken control. He has denied repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press.

Uvalde’s mayor pushed back on McCraw’s testimony blaming Arredondo, saying the Department of Public Safety has repeatedly released false information about the shooting and obscured the role of its own officers.

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

On Wednesday, State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, filed a lawsuit trying to force the Texas Department of Public Safety to pass on his records in connection with the shooting investigation. The families of the victims “deserve to know the complete, unchanging truth of what happened that day,” a lawyer for the Democrat 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 shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

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Javed Iqbal

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