President Joe Biden travelled to Texas on Sunday to meet the families of the 19 children and two teachers fatally shot in America’s latest school shooting, as Democrats downplayed the chances of meaningful change to gun laws.
Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old, entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday and opened fire on children with an automatic rifle. Around 90 minutes after the attack began he was shot dead by a Border Patrol agent.
The president and first lady Jill Biden visited the memorial site at the school before attending mass at a nearby Catholic church and meeting with the families of the dead children and surviving pupils.
The massacre in Uvalde, a majority Hispanic town about 60 miles from the Mexican border, came just over a week after another teenager shot and killed 10 people in a grocery store in a largely Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York state’s second-largest city.
Democrats in Congress have tried to pass stricter gun control measures for years but have encountered steadfast opposition from Republicans, who have resisted even modest proposals such as more rigorous background checks before weapons are bought.
Any legislative changes would need to clear a 60-vote threshold in the Senate, meaning at least 10 Republicans would have to be in favour for gun control legislation to advance.
On Sunday, Cory Booker, the Democratic senator for New Jersey, said he was “under no illusion that we’re going to do the things that need to get done”.
“Until the redemptive power of love for all of our children is greater than the destructive power of the love of our guns and money and power, until that redemptive love of our children turns into action then nothing is going to change,” said Booker, speaking on NBC.
Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate judiciary committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” programme on Sunday: “We’ve got to be realistic about what we can achieve.”
Chris Murphy, the Democratic senator for Connecticut, said it was “inconceivable” that the US had not passed significant legislation to address gun violence.
“Every single time, after one of these mass shootings, there’s talks in Washington and they never succeed,” said Murphy. “But there are more Republicans interested in talking about finding a path forward this time than I have ever seen since Sandy Hook.”
However, Murphy said there were bipartisan talks between lawmakers over the weekend over what they could agree on.
Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger said on Sunday he would support raising the minimum legal age to buy a gun from 18 to 21. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican congressman from Texas, suggested he would also be open to “a conversation” on increasing the minimum age to 21.
Vice-president Kamala Harris called for a ban on assault-style weapons during a trip to Buffalo on Saturday.
Republicans have expressed sympathy for the victims and their families but have shown little interest in new gun control measures in the immediate aftermath of the Texas shooting.
Earlier this week, Ted Cruz, a senator for Texas, accused Democrats of trying to politicise the shooting and said that “from past experience, one of the most effective tools for keeping kids safe is armed law enforcement” on school grounds.
Former president Donald Trump appeared on Friday at a National Rifle Association convention in Houston, where he dismissed calls for gun regulation and suggested fortifying schools instead.
Much anger has been directed at the police response to the Uvalde shooter after it emerged that officers had waited before confronting him.
On Sunday, the US Department of Justice said it would conduct a review of the law enforcement response to the shooting, at the request of Uvalde’s mayor Don McLaughlin.
Justice department spokesman Anthony Coley said the review would aim to provide “an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day”, and that the full report and its findings would be published.
In a press conference on Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw acknowledged that officers’ hesitance to enter the classroom where the shooting was taking place was a mistake. “Of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was a wrong decision, period. There’s no excuse for that.”
He said that the reason for the delay stemmed from the belief that all of the children in the classroom had already been killed. The perpetrator had fired hundreds of rounds into the two classrooms in four minutes, McCraw said.