Biden vows to ‘continue to push’ for gun laws after visiting Uvalde

Washington Post photo by Sarah L. Voisin
People in Uvalde, Texas, gather near Robb Elementary School on Sunday to see President Joe Biden.

As mourners in Uvalde, Texas, prepared to bury 19 children and two teachers, elected officials vowed Monday to examine last week’s elementary school massacre and the flawed police response, and drive changes to gun laws.

President Joe Biden, who spent nearly four hours Sunday visiting with the families of Uvalde victims, told reporters he would not give up on efforts to achieve “common-sense” gun legislation.

“The folks who were victimized, their families, they spent three hours and 40 minutes with me. They waited all that time. Some came two hours early,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “The pain is palpable. I think a lot of it is unnecessary. I’m going to continue to push.”

Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime called for hearings on Capitol Hill to give families a chance to tell their stories, and to seek ways to prevent mass shootings.

“We will look comprehensively at Uvalde and the incident that occurred last Tuesday,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, whose Houston-based district is several hours from Uvalde and Robb Elementary School, the site of the shootings. Jackson Lee attended church with the president and first lady Jill Biden in Uvalde on Sunday.

Jackson Lee said the goal of hearings, which might also take place in Texas, would be to determine “the facts” of what happened and to propose solutions. “We can do multiple things,” she said in an interview, adding that her focus right now is on the families’ “mourning and pain.”

The congresswoman noted that the nation on Monday observed Memorial Day by honoring men and women who fell in battle. “We have children murdered as though they were at battle,” she said. “And that is not fitting of this nation.”

One of the survivors Biden met with on Sunday was 9-year-old Jaydien, who hid under a desk in his classroom. In an interview on Monday, Jaydien, who is being identified by first name only because he is a minor, said he asked the president: “Could you please make our schools safer and send more police, please?”

“I will try,” Biden said, according to Jaydien and his grandmother, Betty Fraire, whose last name is different from her grandson’s.

The boy had one more request: Could the president also make sure teenagers are not able to carry rifles because, the child said, “it’s dangerous.” Biden’s reply: “I am working on it.”

Biden recalled for reporters on Monday a visit he made to a trauma hospital in New York, where he was shown X-rays of shooting victims. “A 9mm bullet blows the lung out of the body,” he said. “There’s simply no rational basis for [a high-caliber weapon] in terms of self-protection, hunting.”

Authorities have said the Uvalde gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos, bought more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition days before the shooting. More than 300 rounds were found inside the school, according to police.

“It makes no sense to be able to purchase something that can fire up to 300 rounds,” Biden said.

He added that the Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms, was “never absolute,” noting: “You couldn’t buy a cannon when the Second Amendment was passed.”

At the same time, the president acknowledged that much of the power to impose gun safety regulations rests with Congress, where lawmakers have debated the issue for years. “I can’t outlaw a weapon. I can’t change the background checks. I can’t do that,” Biden said.

He added that he thinks “things have gotten so bad that everybody is getting more rational about it. At least that’s my hope and prayer.”

Some lawmakers have indicated that the Uvalde attack could spur Congress to at least limited action.

“There are more Republicans interested in talking about finding a path forward this time than I have ever seen since Sandy Hook,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told ABC’s “This Week,” referring to a school shooting in Connecticut a decade ago that killed 20 students and six adults but did not lead to the passage of sweeping legislation on the federal level.

Jackson Lee, whose crime panel is part of the Judiciary Committee, said she will seek to move gun safety legislation, including a proposal to require a seven-day waiting period for purchases of assault weapons like the one used in Uvalde.

On May 24, an array of federal and local law enforcement agencies responded to the reports of gunfire outside and inside the school.

But officers waited more than an hour – through multiple 911 calls from students – to storm the classroom where the gunman and many of his victims were locked in.

Officials have said school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo wrongly treated the attack as a barricade situation rather than an active-shooter situation once the initial gunfire stopped.

Arredondo has not spoken publicly since the shooting. He recently was elected to the Uvalde City Council and was supposed to be sworn in Tuesday evening. On Monday, the Uvalde mayor issued a statement saying the council meeting had been canceled so the community could focus on grieving.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde, said Monday that he is sending a written request to Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, for a full ballistics report and demanding to know “exactly what time, what officer and from what agency showed up, and where they were stationed” at the school.

He said better-equipped and trained officers responding to the incident should have stepped in when it became apparent that the school police force was ill-suited to handle an active shooter, he said.

“There were clear, clear violations of protocol here,” he said.

“I want to make sure that we have access to all of the evidence as quickly as possible so we can get a thorough investigation,” he said. “It’s not going to bring these kids back, of course, but we need to make sure that we get the answers so that this never happens again.”