Gun access debated as victim’s sister begs Texas lawmakers to act

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For the first time since the Texas Legislature began to address Uvalde school massacre, debate veered Thursday to topic of gun access and what limits, if any, should be pursued to better protect young students and the general public.

A Capitol hearing got off to a dark start when Jazmin Cazares, whose 9-year-old sister Jackie was killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, pleaded for lawmakers to honor her sister’s memory by passing safety legislation firearms.

“I’m here to beg you to do something, or change something, because the people who were supposed to protect her have failed,” Cazares said, later adding, “I’m terrified that my life come back. I have a senior year and that’s it. Will I survive it?”

Cazares, who said he started his day sitting on his sister’s bed crying, urged lawmakers to improve the system of background checks before gun purchases and create a ‘red flag’ system which allows weapons to be temporarily removed from those deemed dangerous to themselves and others.

She also called for improved active shooter training standards for officers and ensuring that basic security features, starting with working door locks, are used.

Immediately afterwards, the joint hearing before two House committees heard from Suzanna Hupp, a former Republican House member from Texas who was with her parents when they and 21 others were shot in the 1991 attack on a Luby restaurant in Killeen.

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Hupp said imposing limits on gun rights would make safety worse, not better.

“Let’s be clear, the gun: it’s just a tool. It’s a tool that can be used to kill a family, but it’s a tool that can be used to protect a family,” Hupp said. . “I’m not a gun lover. I don’t care about that piece of metal right there, except I want that lucky, odds-changing item in what is now an increasingly common scenario. “

Hupp opposed universal background checks before every gun purchase, calling it “de facto gun registration. Registration always leads to confiscation, in my view.”

She also opposed limits on large capacity magazines – saying it would only provide a few seconds of difference because smaller magazines can be quickly replaced – and raising the age for all gun purchases to 21 year.

Thursday’s joint hearing heard only invited witnesses and combined two House committees responsible for responding to the Uvalde shooting – the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety and the Select Committee on Health. and youth safety – and was separate from a special investigative committee which interviewed witnesses in private.

Democrats call for special session

Before the hearing began, 58 House Democrats sent a letter urging Governor Greg Abbott to convene an immediate special session to address four issues before students return in August:

• Enact legislation authorizing extreme risk protection orders, also known as the red flag law, and close loopholes in state protection order laws.

• Require background checks before any purchase of firearms, including sales between strangers.

• Require that stolen weapons be reported to law enforcement.

• Raise the legal age to purchase semi-automatic “assault weapons” from 18 to 21 years.

“Texans want common sense gun safety legislation, and they want it now,” State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said at a press conference Thursday morning. “This event in Uvalde…has shaken people so much, that small children could be murdered by an 18-year-old who was able to legally buy an assault weapon, I think you see a change in attitude.”

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Also, earlier this week, 13 mayors from the state’s most populous cities – including Austin’s Steve Adler – called for a special session to enact legislation they said would have prevented mass shootings in Uvalde. and at El Paso Walmart in 2019. These suggestions included universal background checks, no gun purchases by those under 21, red flag laws, better training and resources for school police and more money for mental health support.

Abbott and other Republican leaders have pushed back against calls for a special session, saying a thorough understanding of what happened in Uvalde is needed before a legislative response can be crafted and debated.

Renae Eze, spokeswoman for Abbott, said Democrats should work with other lawmakers “rather than hold press conferences to promote themselves.”

“The investigations by the Texas Rangers and the FBI are ongoing, and we look forward to the full results being shared with the families of the victims and the public, who deserve the full truth about what happened on that tragic day. “, Eze said, adding that the House and Senate committees are responding to Abbott’s request to study and make recommendations on school safety, mental health, gun safety, training of the police and social media.

Only the governor can call a special session and determine what issues lawmakers can act on during the 30-day sessions.

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Police chiefs and sheriffs testify

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers also heard from half a dozen police chiefs from across Texas who explained active shooter protocols and suggested a range of reforms, including requiring officers to justice to complete 16 hours of advanced training every two years to meet active shooters. .

Command personnel should also undergo active training in handling attacks, San Marcos Police Chief Stan Standridge told the committee.

He also asked for more state money to provide officers with medical equipment and embed mental health clinicians with officers in the field.

Leaders of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas and the Texas Police Chiefs Association also urged lawmakers to avoid enacting legislation to determine which agency would provide the incident commander in a mass shooting or other. multi-agency response, particularly in reaction to the delay in confronting Uvalde’s shooter.

Such a law would never be able to determine which agency or officer has the best ability or experience to lead in these chaotic situations, Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was the incident commander during the Uvalde shooting who was responsible for the delay, and several lawmakers have suggested that the DPS should have taken control of the situation.

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