Parents and family members of children who were killed in the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, demonstrated in front of Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) mansion early on Saturday morning, demanding that he call a special session of the legislature to address gun violence.
The family members, joined by members of the gun reform organization March for Our Lives, gathered around 5:15 am on Saturday to protest the governor’s inaction. Some of the parents held portraits of their children who had been murdered. They also played audio of their children laughing and playing over a loudspeaker, pausing at times to shout the names of their children and to condemn Abbott’s refusal to promote gun reform legislation after the May shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers.
“Our kids are going back to school and asking, ‘Will I be next?'” said Javier Cazares, whose daughter Jackie was among those killed in the shooting.
The family members demanded that Abbott call a special session of the state legislature to raise the age to buy assault rifles and other semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21.
“You do not give a damn, you care more about our guns than you do our children…We remember them, and we are going to make damn well sure that you do to,” said Brett Cross, uncle and legal guardian to Uziyah Garcia, who was killed in the massacre.
Uvalde families outside Greg Abbott’s Governor’s Mansion in Austin demand that he do something to protect our children from gun violence. Beto for Governor. #DemVoice1 #OurBlueVoice pic.twitter.com/vobEqwMACz
— The Masked Blue Texan 🇺🇦🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ (@ProgressiveTex) August 27, 2022
The early morning protest was followed by a larger demonstration on the steps of the state Capitol building, where family members continued to call for gun reform, including Ann Rodriguez, the mother of shooting victim Maite Rodriguez.
“I want to be able to speak about her but also talk about how her life was so meaninglessly taken by this 18-year-old kid who was able to purchase these weapons of war and ammunition, and how I am demanding that the age go up in a special session,” Rodriguez told NPR. “I’m not going to ask — I’m going to demand.”
A spokesperson for Abbott wrote in an email to HuffPost that the governor is leaving “all options” on the table to address gun violence, and that “more announcements are expected in the coming days and weeks as the legislature deliberates proposed solutions.”
Abbott has rejected formal requests by the Uvalde City Council, the County Commissioners Court, and the Uvalde school board to hold a special session on the issue. He has also told Uvalde family members directly that raising the age to buy assault rifles would be unconstitutional and that mental health initiatives should be the focus in reducing the number of mass shootings.
But experts say right-wing claims that mass shootings are driven by mental illness shift the focus away from holding gun manufacturers and legislators accountable, and could have detrimental outcomes for people who are mentally ill.
“People with serious mental illness who have access to firearms are no more likely to be violent than people living in the same neighborhoods who do not have mental illnesses,” wrote Brent Teasdale, a professor of criminal justice at Pennsylvania State University, and Miranda Lynne Baumann, then a doctoral candidate at Georgia State University’s criminal justice and criminology program, in a 2018 article for Truthout.
Putting restrictions on people with mental health issues could lead people to avoid seeking treatment, they added.
“There is certainly an argument to be made for the temporary removal of firearm access for individuals actively experiencing mental health crises,” Teasdale and Baumann added. “However, the threat of permanent loss of one’s Second Amendment right could cause harm. People might avoid treatment for fear of losing their guns.”