AUSTIN, Texas ( Associated Press) — The first public hearing in Texas on the investigation into the Uvalde School Massacre focused on a string of law enforcement blunders, school building security, and mental health care, with only sparse references to the AR-15-style semi-automatic shooter. Reform of the automatic rifle and weapons.
A day after the head of the Texas State Police called law enforcement’s response to the May 24 massacre a “terrible failure,” Texas Senators on Wednesday turned their attention to mental health school funding and a shortage of mental health counselors and providers.
So far, lawmakers and witnesses at the Texas Capitol hearing have made little mention of the gun debate. In one of the few cases where this actually came up, Democratic Senator Jose Menendez asked Colonel Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, whether the attacker could have done the same amount of damage with a bat, knife, or revolver.
“No,” said McCraw.
The inept response to the attack, which killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb’s elementary school, infuriated the nation, and a recent spate of mass shootings with fatalities has renewed the push for new gun laws.
WATCH: Senior Texas Law Enforcement Official Criticizes Uvalde Police Response to School Shooting
By the end of the week, the US Senate could pass new legislation that would tighten background checks on the youngest firearm buyers and require more sellers to conduct background checks.
Wednesday’s hearing in Texas barely got underway when non-committee lawmakers argued over what weapons should be allowed in the State Capitol, which has handguns but no rifles. Rep. Gina Hinojosa, a Democrat, tweeted that lawmakers should “really talk about our ability to protect the public from AR-15s.” Briscoe Kane, one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives, responded that long rifles “should not be banned in the Capitol.”
Near the Texas Senate chamber, nearly two dozen members of the gun control group Moms Demand Action for America’s Gun Sense lined the entrance, holding signs critical of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and urging lawmakers to consider new restrictions on the sale and possession of guns.
“We’re tired of these dormant committees and roundtables that happen after every mass shooting in Texas,” Melanie Green of Austin said. “They talk about what went wrong, and usually it’s everything but the weapons. We are tired of all this talk and want action.”
The group wants lawmakers to consider raising the gun ownership age from 18 to 21, background checks on all gun sales, and a “red flag” law allowing authorities to seize guns from those deemed dangerous. The shooter at Robb’s elementary school was 18-year-old former student Salvador Ramos.
Green is not optimistic. “This committee is a show of dogs and ponies. It is a performative political theatre. But we are not going to give up,” said Green.
Texas does not require a permit to carry a long gun like the one used in Uvalde. Last year, lawmakers allowed anyone aged 21 and over to carry a handgun in public without a license, background check, or training.
The Republican-dominated state legislature has spent the past decade lifting gun restrictions, even as Texas has experienced a spate of mass shootings that have killed more than 85 people in the past five years. at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston and in the oil country of West Texas.
Republican Senator Bob Hall tried to keep the first hearing away from any gun talk.
“You don’t need a gun for this. This man had enough time to do it with his hands or with a baseball bat. So it’s not about the gun, it’s about the person,” Hall said on Tuesday.
Senator Royce West, one of the few Democrats in the Senate who has raised the issue of gun control, said that “without a discussion of these rights and the restrictions associated with them, this will be an incomplete discussion.”
However, delays and errors in law enforcement at Robb Elementary School are the focus of federal, state, and local investigations.
READ MORE: Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo defends Texas response to shooting
The state’s head of public safety said on Tuesday that the police had enough officers and firepower at the school to stop Ramos three minutes after he entered the building, but instead they waited more than an hour before bursting into the classroom and killing his.
McCraw described a number of missed opportunities, communication failures and errors, based on an investigation that included about 700 interviews. He also placed much of the blame on Pete Arredondo, the Uwalde School District Police Chief, who McCraw said was the commander in charge.
Arredondo, who testified Tuesday at a closed Texas House committee hearing, said he did not hold himself responsible and assumed someone else had taken control. He turned down repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press.
Mayor Uvalde dismissed McCraw’s accusations of placing the blame on Arredondo, saying the Department of Public Safety repeatedly spread false information about the shooting and embellished the role of its own officers.
There has been increased public pressure on state and local officials to provide more information.
On Wednesday, state senator Roland Gutierrez, representing Uvalde, filed a lawsuit demanding that the Texas Department of Public Safety release its documents related to the shooting investigation. The victims’ families “deserve to know the full, unchanging truth about what happened that day,” the Democrat’s lawyer wrote in the lawsuit.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer John Seaver of Toledo, Ohio contributed to this report.