AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Passionate chants for school safety lulled into pained silence as Caitlyne Gonzales took the microphone at the Texas Capitol Tuesday.
“I remember hearing my best friend scream,” she said through tears. “The next day we got the news from my mom. The worst news that any child should get.”
The ten-year-old watched 19 classmates die when a gunman attacked Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022. On Tuesday, she stood before hundreds of gun safety activists and around the families of those who died as she recounted that day.
“He wobbled the knob on my door, he shot at the door, and a bullet went over my head. I had to wait every 77 minutes. And then I heard the glass break,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to be here right now, but I am because my friends don’t have a voice no more.”
A crowd of a few hundred people in red “Moms Demand Action” shirts sung chants like “Raise the age” and “21 for 21.” Above them, signs read “Ban Assault Weapons” and “Our blood, your hands.”
“The urgency for you to support common sense gun laws is vital for our school system,” former Robb Elementary teacher Arnulfo Reyes said. He was in the classroom as 11 of his students died. “There will always be 21 pieces missing to our puzzle that will never be home… I implore you to stand with me and be the voice for those whose voices were robbed from them.”
Uvalde’s state senator Roland Gutierrez was among the first to greet the families as they marched to the capitol steps.
“When I went to their funerals and their rosaries and I saw little babies in coffins, and I saw closed coffins and I could only imagine why they were closed, it changed my life,” he said. “How many parents need to match their DNA to their mangled children? Do something to make it harder for an 18-year-old to access an AR-15 just as easy as he can access a Slurpee at 7-11.”
Sen. Gutierrez has filed a host of bills targeting school safety. They are bipartisan proposals, like increasing law enforcement funding, and more controversial measures, like raising the firearm purchase age to 21. He told KXAN that some Senate Republicans have privately voiced their support for the age change.
“Some of them are considering the age limit proposal. They want to remain private about it,” he said. “There have been a few Republican colleagues that have suggested that they are open to it. But they are afraid of their right-wing base.”
Top Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott, Speaker Dade Phelan, and Chairman Dustin Burrows have reiterated they believe the age change is unconstitutional.