Nineteen children and two teachers were shot dead at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday by an 18-year-old who had earlier shot and critically wounded his grandmother. The gunman was shot and killed by law enforcement. The attack was the deadliest school shooting since the massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 and comes just 10 days after an 18-year-old self-described white supremacist attacked a grocery store in the heart of Buffalo’s African American community. We go to Austin to speak with Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, who says Texas lawmakers have widely opposed gun violence prevention legislation supported by the majority of Texas voters. She also denounces Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s recommendation to arm teachers.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were shot dead at an elementary school in the city of Uvalde on Tuesday. The attack on the Robb Elementary School was carried out by a teenager armed with guns he had just bought on his 18th birthday. The gunman died in the attack. Earlier in the day on Tuesday, he shot and critically wounded his grandmother.
Families have begun sharing the names of some of the victims. They include Xavier Lopez, 10 years old; Jose Flores, 10 years old; Uziyah Garcia, 9; Amerie Jo Garza, 10; Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10; and two fourth grade teachers, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia.
Robb Elementary School is a school with about 600 students in just three grades: second, third and fourth. The school is about 90% Latinx. Thursday was scheduled to be the last day of class for the year. The school district’s superintendent, Hal Harrell, spoke on Tuesday.
HAL HARRELL: My heart was broken today. We’re a small community, and we’ll need your prayers to get us through this.
AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest elementary school shooting since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, when a 20-year-old gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of 6 and 7. On Tuesday night, President Biden addressed the nation.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?
AMY GOODMAN: The shooting in Uvalde came just 10 days after an 18-year-old self-described white supremacist attacked a grocery store in the heart of Buffalo’s African American community. He shot dead 10 people, all of whom were Black. Many of them were grandmothers. On Tuesday, a funeral was held for 65-year-old Celestine Chaney.
This comes as the National Rifle Association plans to host its annual meeting Friday in Houston, Texas, with more than 55,000 people set to attend and hear speeches by former President Trump and Republican Texas lawmakers, including Governor Greg Abbott and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.
For more, we head to Texas, to the capital, Austin, to speak with Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense.
Nicole, welcome to Democracy Now! on this horrific day. First of all, our condolences on the horror that has taken place in Uvalde. I mean, I was just saying this 10 days ago to the people of Buffalo. But if you can respond to what happened and the climate in Texas and what you think needs to happen?
NICOLE GOLDEN: Yeah, I’ll be honest. You know, we’re all barely hanging in there. It’s nothing compared to what this community must be experiencing. I’m sitting here talking to you while I’m exhausted and my own kids are getting ready for school. You know, I have to compartmentalize what happened in order to do the work that I do, but it’s so critically important.
You know, I’ve been involved in gun violence prevention in Texas for almost a decade. I have sat through brutal hearings at the state Legislature. I have heard unbelievable arguments to our very sensible ask for commonsense gun laws, laws that most Texans support, laws that law enforcement supports, laws that are working to prevent gun violence in other states. But we have a political climate here that makes it such that it’s been — you know, our work has basically been shut down.
But we’re here for the long haul. We’re not going anywhere. And I’m certain that at some point when the political will is there, we will have built the infrastructure to see real change here. Until then, we’ll keep chipping away, working in our communities to pass meaningful change and continuing with building this extremely strong movement that we’ve created over the past decade.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nicole Golden, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, only hours after this shooting, this horrific massacre that occurred, said that teachers should be armed, as well. Your response?
NICOLE GOLDEN: Look, you’ve probably heard this said before: If more guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world. That experiment has obviously failed us and failed our children completely. Guns in schools is not supported by educators. They are not teachers so that they can be armed during the day while they’re trying to love and support and educate their students. We do not think that that is the answer, and we will push back if that is brought forward next legislative session.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the alleged gunman here, Salvador Ramos, reportedly bought two assault rifles just last week. How easy is it to get a weapon like that in Texas? Are there any age restrictions at all?
NICOLE GOLDEN: You know, that very well could have been a legal purchase. That doesn’t make it right, of course. It is far too easy to walk into any number of gun retailers. Federally licensed dealers have to run a background check here in Texas, according to federal guidelines, but you can also purchase a gun through an online sale or at a gun show from a collector, for example, with no questions asked. So, there are many different ways somebody can purchase a deadly firearm. Some states have closed their loopholes so that there’s a background check required on every gun sale, to prevent — you know, we can’t prevent every shooting, but we can definitely prevent some by trying to keep guns out of hands of potentially dangerous individuals. But that measure has not succeeded in Texas to close those loopholes, as well as other measures that we’ve tried to pass at the state level.
AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Golden, the NRA is meeting on Friday in Houston. You have Cruz going to speak there. It’s not only Paxton, but Cruz, too, decried Democrats for saying they’re going to make this a political moment and call for gun control; this whole issue of the answer is to arm the teachers. The studies that have come out that show that there are 400 million guns in the United States right now — more than every man, woman and child in this country. And the difference between the number of shootings — for example, I think there have been 30 shootings in schools in the United States this year alone, over 300 over the past 10 years. Comparing it to Mexico and Texas, I mean, it is alone in the world.
NICOLE GOLDEN: Yes. We already had so many guns in circulation, and then, during the pandemic, that number increased. And so did gun violence. The most recent data show us that here in Texas we had over 4,000 Texans killed by guns in 2020. That was an increase from previous years. So, we have a clear crisis, and this “more guns is the answer” narrative that we’ve been — that’s been peddled, it’s truly outrageous. It’s, again, not supported by the people teaching our kids. It’s largely not supported by law enforcement.
Last legislative session, when lawmakers removed requirements for training and licensing to carry a handgun in Texas, we stood side by side with people from major law enforcement associations, faith leaders, survivors, teachers — I can’t name the full list — pleading to please not do this. The Legislature passed it anyway. The gun lobby here in Texas seems very proud of itself. And look where we are.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you also about the gun lobby’s efforts in recent years to market weapons, and especially high-powered weapons, to children. They developed in recent years a version of the AR-15 assault rifle, the JR-15, the Junior 15, where they actually say, quote, “Our vision is to develop a line of shooting platforms that will safely help adults introduce children to the shooting sport.” And this new JR-15 is supposedly built with ergonomics geared towards children. It’s lighter than an adult version, at 2.2 pounds, and 20% smaller. So there’s an actual effort by the industry to market. And many of these shootings that we’re seeing in recent years are being committed by 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds. Your sense of the responsibility of the arms industry in terms of this new marketing effort of theirs?
NICOLE GOLDEN: Yeah, I think not only is it — it’s shameful, and it’s dangerous, and it’s disturbing, but also I really think that that is not in line with what most voters think across this country and in Texas, regardless of your background politically or whether you’re a gun owner or not. I don’t think most think that this extremist direction is reasonable. I think most people stand with us when we say we need some reasonable guardrails on this.
When it comes to children and guns, I think there are families who can responsibly own guns, and if families choose to do that together, I think there’s a way to do it that’s safe. They have to lock up their guns safely. That should not — that should be mandatory. Everybody should be telling everybody to do it. Everyone should be asking, when their kids go somewhere, “Are guns locked safely at your home?” This is just the most simple way to prevent unintentional shootings and suicides or guns being stolen or lost and then used in a crime. So, safe gun storage has a huge role to play. And it is an adult’s responsibility to do that; it is not a child’s responsibility.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a race that’s still not fully counted, that happened yesterday in Texas, the incumbent anti-choice, pro-gun Henry Cuellar versus the progressive Jessica Cisneros. Responding to Tuesday’s mass shooting, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, quote, “On the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of Roe, Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it. Accountability isn’t partisan. This was an utter failure of leadership,” AOC said. I know you have to leave for another interview. Your thoughts?
NICOLE GOLDEN: So, we’re a bipartisan organization. We’re proud of that, because people join us from a variety of backgrounds, and we all stand together with one strong voice on the need for gun violence prevention strategies in Texas. I can’t really comment on specific races except to tell you that I do think that Texans and voters across the country are going to be looking for leaders who can lead us into a safer direction. And I think people should continue to push that message in their campaigns and that voters should be paying attention, because we know we can’t go on like this.
AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Golden, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, speaking to us from the capital of Texas, Austin.
When we come back from break, we’ll be talking about the Supreme Court. It is poised to deregulate guns even further. And we’ll talk about that meeting at the end of the week with the National Rifle Association in Houston, Texas. Stay with us.