Uvalde families stand with Beto O'Rourke amid Republican silence on gun reform




  • In Politics
  • 2022-10-01 13:28:34Z
  • By The Guardian
Photograph: Joel Martinez/AP
Photograph: Joel Martinez/AP  

A small photo of Jacklyn Casarez, one of the children killed during the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, in May, graced the front of a greeting card held by Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke, who visited a Rio Grande Valley park Friday morning before the one and only staged debate with incumbent governor Greg Abbott.

"Maybe you don't consider yourself a political person," Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was also killed in the 24 May shooting at Robb elementary, said Friday during a pre-debate news conference.

"Maybe you're not a fan of either candidate, but I implore you to ask yourself, do you want to send your child off to school and have them return? Do you want to hug them every night before bed? Do you want the opportunity to watch them grow?"

Kimberly recalled dropping off Lexi at Robb's campus for an awards ceremony on the morning of the shooting. The girl's parents promised her ice cream.

"She turns around to leave. We're walking behind her. I tell her that I love her and we'll pick her up from school. She turns around and smiles at me," Kimberly recalled. That was the last time she'd see her daughter, whom her father described as bright and opinionated, alive.

The Rubios were one of several Uvalde families who accompanied O'Rourke to Edinburg on Friday, despite the 10-hour bus ride each way.

Uvalde was shattered - changed forever - after an 18-year-old man stormed into the Robb school with a pair of high-powered rifles as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition and killed 19 children and two teachers there.

"The community is basically a Republican town," Jesse Rizo, Jacklyn's uncle, said Friday morning. "So it makes it a little bit challenging. But I think the people at this point are putting their differences aside. They're not voting straight blue or straight red."

Republican lawmakers at the local and state level who were reluctant to support restricting access to high-powered guns frustrated the families of those killed at Robb. They characterized themselves as Democrat or apolitical, and they have now decided to join O'Rourke because he has at least promised reform that could have changed the trajectory of their lives.

Pre-debate supporters cheer for O’Rourke in Edinburg, Texas.
Pre-debate supporters cheer for O’Rourke in Edinburg, Texas.  

"If changes were made years ago, my daughter would still be alive today," Jacklyn's mom, Gloria Casarez, said. "My daughter was transported to the hospital [that day] with a heartbeat. She later died."

Aside from reproductive rights, immigration reform and LGBTQ rights, O'Rourke's support for gun control has helped him make some gains with Texas voters who agreed changes were necessary after the Uvalde massacre.

"I've traveled to every part of the state, literally," O'Rourke said. "I listened to people who are for me. I have listened to people who will never vote for me."

And those travels have inspired him to propose prohibiting anyone who is younger than 21 from buying guns.

"All of them agree that this makes sense," O'Rourke said about raising the minimum age to legally purchase firearms. The measure would allow the state to preserve the right to bear arms as called for by the US constitution's second amendment while also "better protecting the lives of our children".

O'Rourke is also pushing for universal background checks and the implementation of red-flag laws, which help keep guns away from those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

"Criminals won't follow the law. It won't matter what we do," O'Rourke said, referring to the criticism heard by some voters. He acknowledged his proposed changes won't always stop a tragedy from happening. "But this troubled young man in Uvalde patiently waited until he was 18 years old. He never tried to acquire that firearm when he was 16 or 17. Upon his 18th birthday, he was legally able to go into a gun store and buy not one, but two AR-15s and hundreds of rounds of ammunition."

Abbott has dedicated resources to address mental health problems after the Uvalde massacre, but victims' relatives have noticed he has avoided embracing gun control reform.

"There's a combination of things - one of them is a mental issue," Jesse Rizo said. "The other one is going to be about putting a weapon in the hands of a young person. It doesn't make any sense. Things like that resonate."

Rizo said O'Rourke captured his attention by listening to their pleas for reform. Loved ones of those lost in May said Abobott met their cries with deaf ears.

"We are no longer asking - we're demanding that governor Abbott call a special [legislative] session and raise the age limit to 21," said Veronica Mata, whose daughter Tess Marie was killed at Robb.

Mata, Rizo, the Rubios and the rest of the families were not able to attend the debate despite their long trek to south Texas. O'Rourke said Abbott would only agree to debate with no audience - even spouses. However, O'Rourke said he would bring the greeting card signed by the Uvale victims' families with him on stage, along with other mementos.

Meanwhile, the Uvalde families pledged to continue their journey beyond Friday's debate.

"It happened to me - it can happen to you," Kimberly Rubio said. "I'm speaking directly to moms when I say our babies' lives are on that ballot."

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