Uvalde anniversary: Hopes for US gun reform remain one year after school shooting

State-led efforts serve as a road map for progress despite year of inaction by Texas politicians

Veronica Mata visits the gravesite of her daughter, Tess, who was among the 19 people fatally shot at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. AP
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One year after 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the struggle to pass gun reform in the US continues, with shootings remaining a daily threat.

Nowhere have activist efforts been so fraught as in Texas itself, where the Republican hold on the state legislature has frustrated families of Uvalde shooting victims pushing for more gun control.

“The Texas legislature has refused to do what I think the public in large part has been demanding them to do, which is to take responsible action,” said Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady United, a gun control advocacy organisation.

There appeared to be a glimmer of hope earlier this month when two Republicans broke ranks with their party to advance a bill to raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic firearms from 18 to 21. But hopes were soon dashed after a key deadline was missed.

The bill is not expected to pass.

“This isn’t over. We will regroup, re-strategise and come back stronger,” tweeted Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Alexandria Aniyah Rubio was killed in the Uvalde shooting.

Brett Cross, whose son Uziyah Garcia was also killed in the shooting, was thrown out of the state capitol for being disruptive during the session in which the deadline for the bill passed.

“The issue is, while Uziyah's voice may have been eternally muted, mine will not,” he said in a statement.

The bill “may have died, but our hope has not”, he said.

Polling conducted by the Texas Politics Project shows that a majority of voters in the state support raising the legal age to purchase a firearm.

“Look at the juxtaposition, of the courage that these families who have lost everything who are in mourning … fighting day in and day out, getting kicked out of the legislature trying to fight for these policies to protect future children,” Mr Heyne said.

For now, the prospect for gun reform in Texas appears bleak.

But Mr Heyne points to gun laws passed in Virginia, years after a 2007 university shooting, as an example that activists can push for in Texas.

Activists saw such a victory when Texas state legislators passed a bill that would send juvenile mental health cases to the state's public safety department – a step that could improve federal background checks.

“I think that there's a road map there that we should pay attention to as Texas continues to get … incremental victories that eventually change the politics of the state,” he said.

As debate continues, shootings proliferate

The mass shooting at Uvalde was part of a series of massacres in the US last year. It occurred right as federal lawmakers were grappling with how to respond to a racist-inspired attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

As these debates continued in Washington and across the US, the country still experienced an alarming rate of shootings.

"Too many schools, too many everyday places have become killing fields in communities across America," US President Joe Biden said in remarks from the White House on Wednesday.

The US is projected to experience more than 600 mass shootings this year after 647 were reported last year, data from the Gun Violence Archives showed.

These mass shootings include Highland Park, Virginia Beach, Colorado Springs, Nashville, Louisville, New Mexico and hundreds more as well as thousands of everyday instances of gun violence.

Mr Biden has used his authority to enact a series of executive actions, negotiate with Congress on a bipartisan gun control bill and call for stronger laws.

"Do something for God's sake, please do something," Mr Biden said as he stood in front of 21 lit candles, each one a symbol of a person killed in the Uvalde massacre.

"We did something afterwards. But not nearly enough."

Inroads made in several states

In response to the Nashville shooting, Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee threw his support behind a bill that would remove firearms from people considered to be dangerous to themselves or others.

The governor, who also signed a law that protects gun manufacturers, is pushing for the state legislature to pass the “order of protection” law before finishing the current session on May 28.

“Tennesseans are asking us to set aside politics and personal pride. They are depending on us to do the right thing,” he said.

“We owe Tennesseans a vote.”

Inroads are being made elsewhere across the US, mainly in Democratic-led states.

The most significant pieces of reform have come out of Washington state, which became the 10th in the country to pass a ban on most assault-style weapons such as the AR-15, the weapon of choice for mass shootings.

Other states such as Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota have passed a series of gun safety laws expanding background checks and keeping firearms out of the hands of people deemed dangerous.

Maryland and Hawaii have also passed laws restricting access to guns in certain areas, although the National Rifle Association is challenging Maryland in court.

“I think that a number of states are going above and beyond and really acting courageously in preventing gun violence,” Mr Heyne said.

Updated: May 24, 2023, 7:50 PM