By Luke Vander Ploeg, Edgar Sandoval, Rick Rojas, Ali Watkins and Ashley Southall
Americans in communities where lives have been forever changed by gun violence reacted to the bipartisan deal that was reached by Senate negotiators Sunday with a glint of hope but more than a tinge of frustration.
Any agreement is better than no agreement, many indicated, yet so much more could be done.
If approved in the Senate and the House, the deal would be the first major piece of gun safety legislation to be passed by Congress in years. It includes a modest expansion of background checks for gun buyers under 21 and funding for states to enact so-called red-flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from those deemed dangerous. It also includes funding for mental health programs and increased school security.
Still, for many Americans in places like Buffalo, New York; Orlando, Florida; and Uvalde, Texas, who have seen the irrevocable toll of mass shootings, the proposed deal does not go far enough.
Leonard Sandoval, whose 10-year-old grandson, Xavier James Lopez, died at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, would like to see a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
He would also like to see more mass shooter training at the national level to prevent another disastrous police response like what appeared to have happened in Uvalde. “If they had better trained those officers and given them better equipment, maybe so many kids would not have died,” he said.
Monica Muñoz Martinez, a historian and recent MacArthur fellow, lives in Austin, Texas, but is from Uvalde and retains close ties with that community. After watching Uvalde families testify before Congress recently, she said the agreement was disappointing.
“This proposed legislation doesn’t restore a sense of safety in Texas,” she said. “It’s hard to celebrate legislation that falls so far short of what families in Uvalde and Buffalo asked for.”
But for some civic groups assisting Uvalde, a mostly Mexican American community west of San Antonio, even minor gun control moves on background checks are steps in the right direction.
“I think that we take what we can get right now, considering it is much more than what we thought we were going to get,” said Rodolfo Rosales, a state director with the Texas branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“But make no mistake,” he said, “we still need a lot more gun control.” He added that “it’s not going to bring back the lives of those babies, but it is a start.”
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, who has prayed with the families of victims and who pushed for tightening gun laws soon after the shooting, said in a statement Sunday that the agreement was encouraging.
“The framework, as it has been outlined, should receive broad support from elected officials and the public,” he said, adding that “everything that can advance peace in our midst has to be pursued.” He also praised Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican, for working with Democrats and said compromises like this can help unify the country.
In Orlando on Sunday — the sixth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting — Ricardo Negron, 33, a voting rights activist and survivor of that attack, said he was of two minds about the potential deal on gun safety measures.
“It’s good to see them moving toward something,” he said. “But on the other hand, it’s just the bare minimum of the bare minimum.” Negron had been hoping for legislation that would raise the age limit for buying military-style rifles.
Still, for Negron, this type of deal has been a long time coming. “It’s sad that it’s taken such a heavy toll for them to even consider doing this,” he said of lawmakers.
Omar Delgado, 50, was particularly optimistic about the mental health component of the agreement. He was one of the police officers who responded to the Pulse shooting and has since had post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from an hourslong standoff with the gunman.
“I’ve always said if you want to make a change, let’s start with the root of the issue,” Delgado said. “If it helps with mental health, I’m all for it.”
He also said he was pleased with the increased funding for school security. “If you have more trained people out there, more trained officers, it will deter a lot of the violence,” Delgado said, although he added that it would not totally fix the issue of gun violence in schools. “What will?” he asked. “I wish I knew that answer.”
Zeneta Everhart, whose son, Zaire Goodman, was shot and wounded in the attack in Buffalo, said the deal was a “great step.” She was encouraged that lawmakers “had a civil conversation in trying to figure out how to help the citizens of this country.”
Everhart testified last week in front of lawmakers about the need to overhaul U.S. gun laws. “It’s a small victory,” she said of the deal Sunday. “It’s not everything we want.”
Today, she said she was celebrating. And tomorrow? “We go back to work,” she said.