Content Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions related to gun violence.
WASHINGTON — A fourth grader who survived the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting where 19 students and two teachers were murdered told lawmakers Wednesday that she is afraid to go back to school.
“I don’t want it to happen again,” 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo said in a pre-recorded video shown to members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, as Congress debates whether to enact new gun control legislation.
Miah told lawmakers that after her friend sitting next to her was shot and killed by the gunman, she covered herself in her friend’s blood and pretended to be dead. She moved toward her teacher, who had been killed by the gunman, grabbed her phone and called 911.
Miah was one of several survivors of horrific mass shootings in New York and Texas who testified about the toll gun violence has taken on their lives. They urged Congress to pass legislation to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“It is my hope that all my colleagues will listen with an open heart as gun violence survivors and loved ones recount one of the darkest days of their lives,” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the committee, said in her opening statement.
Kimberly Rubio’s daughter, Lexi, was murdered in the Uvalde school shooting. She told House members that the day of the shooting, Lexi was set to receive a good citizen award as well as be recognized for earning straight As.
To celebrate, Kimberly Rubio told her daughter they would get ice cream after the awards ceremony.
“We told her we loved her, and we would pick her up after school,” she said.
Kimberly Rubio detailed to lawmakers the chaos of trying to find her daughter when the news broke of a shooting at Robb Elementary.
While she and her husband were able to reunite with their 8-year-old son, they searched the local hospital for Lexi.
Still unable to find her daughter, and without a car, Kimberly Rubio took her sandals off — shoes that she planned to wear at the award ceremony — and ran barefoot for a mile to Robb Elementary. She was informed by school district officials that Lexi was among the 19 students killed.
“Somewhere out there, a mom is hearing our testimony and thinking to herself ‘I can’t even imagine their pain,’ not knowing that our reality will one day be hers, unless we act now,” she said.
Zeneta Everhart, the survivor of a mass shooting on May 14 by a white supremacist in Buffalo, New York, told lawmakers that she does not feel safe. Everhart was at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood with her son, Zaire Goodman, who was shot in the neck.
“To the lawmakers who feel that we do not need stricter gun laws, let me paint a picture for you: My son Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back and another on his leg caused by an exploding bullet from an AR-15,” she said.
Everhart said there is no reason for someone to have access to an assault weapon like the one used in the shooting and urged lawmakers to pass legislation to ban the firearms.
“If after hearing from me and the other people here today does not move you to act on gun laws, then I invite you to my home to clean Zaire’s wounds so that you may see up close the damage that has been caused to my son and my community,” she said.
School ‘hardening’ argument
Republicans on the committee criticized Democrats for politicizing a tragedy and argued the schools need to be “hardened,” meaning that they have too many doors and need tighter security.
The ranking member, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said Democrats were pushing “a radical left-wing agenda” by trying to pass gun control legislation.
Republican Reps. Andrew Clyde of Georgia and Clay Higgins of Louisiana said gun legislation proposed by Democrats would infringe on “law-abiding” Second Amendment users.
But Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said that firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death for children and adolescents.
“Will we continue to accept the slaughter of innocents, including innocent children, as acceptable collateral damage for loyalty to a completely bogus and distorted misreading of the Second Amendment?” Raskin asked.
House debates gun control
On Wednesday night, the House passed 223-204 a package of eight bills relating to gun control.
The “Protect Our Kids Act” raises the age of purchasing semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21, creates new requirements for storing guns in a home with children, prevents gun trafficking, requires all firearms to be traceable and closes the loophole on bump stocks, devices that increase the rate of fire of semiautomatic weapons, among other things.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat, challenged Republican arguments that regulating guns would violate Second Amendment rights.
“Do these tragedies from guns in the hands of bad actors sound like the well regulated militia explicitly mentioned in the Second Amendment? Of course not. It’s outrageous,” Dean said.
The package of measures is unlikely to advance to a final vote in the Senate, where Democrats are still trying to strike a deal on passable gun control legislation. In an evenly divided Senate, they will need 10 Republicans on board.
The House is also scheduled on Thursday to vote on a bill by Georgia Democrat Lucy McBath known as a “red flag” bill.
Red flag laws allow the courts or law enforcement to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who is adjudged to pose a threat to themselves or others.
Senate negotiations extend
Negotiations continued among senators over gun control legislation that could pass there. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the Democrats’ top negotiator, said Wednesday morning that he wasn’t going to settle for a bill “that isn’t substantial, that isn’t really truly meaningful.”
“The entire nation is expecting us to put our politics aside and get something done: Both to save lives, but also to give peace of mind to this country that we understand the trauma this nation is going through right now,” he said.
Murphy said he wanted his colleagues watching the House panel’s testimony to try to “understand the reality of what it’s like when you lose a loved one to gun violence” as well as “the trauma that these victims go through and how wide-ranging the trauma is.”
“These communities never recovered from a mass shooting,” Murphy said.
Several Republican senators have said that raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy an assault weapon should be considered. Those senators include Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Joni Ernst of Iowa, according to Capitol Hill pool reports.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Wednesday morning on the floor that gun safety negotiators “deserve the space they need to produce meaningful results.”
“I hope my colleagues continue to make progress toward an effective agreement — hopefully by the end of the week,” Schumer said.
Urging GOP lawmakers to support a possible agreement between Democratic and Republican negotiators, Schumer said, “the sooner we act, the greater chance we have of preventing another senseless mass shooting in America.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, his party’s top negotiator on gun safety, said Wednesday afternoon that he’s optimistic Congress will be able to enact legislation that can save lives, noting lawmakers are making “steady progress.”
“I’m optimistic that we could pass a bill in the Senate, it can pass the House, and it will get a signature by President Biden,” Cornyn said. “It will become the law of the land.”
Lawmakers, he said, are discussing ways to encourage states to upload juvenile records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the database that gun dealers are supposed to check before selling a firearm.
“This is not about creating new restrictions on law-abiding citizens, it’s about ensuring the system we already have in place works as intended,” he said.
Cornyn said he believes the ongoing mass shootings throughout the country represent a “failure” of the mental health system and that the legislation could also address that, though he didn’t get into specifics.
“I think there’s a consensus that criminals and people experiencing severe mental health crises shouldn’t have access to guns,” Cornyn said, noting that’s the goal of the NICS system.
The Texas lawmaker said he is optimistic because of the progress lawmakers have made so far that Congress will be able to enact legislation that can save lives.
“I sense a feeling of urgency and a desire actually to get things done,” Cornyn said. “Around here if you know people have the will, there is a way. And I believe there is a collective bipartisan will.”