AUSTIN, Texas — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott may have woken up Saturday to the sound of parents screaming the names of their children who died in the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde.
Family members of about a dozen of the students and teachers who died in the attack gathered in front of the governor’s mansion in downtown Austin at around 5:15 a.m., blaring recordings of their children laughing and playing, then pausing to shout their names. Several parents held poster-sized portraits of their loved ones and yelled at Abbott to step outside.
“If we can’t sleep, neither can you!” one parent shouted.
“These are the voices of our children!” Brett Cross, whose son Uziyah died in the shooting, yelled into a bullhorn. “This is all we have left because you don’t give a damn!”
The protest is part of a larger push from parents and the gun reform group March for Our Lives to get Abbott to call a special session of the state Legislature to raise the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.
Later that morning, hundreds of gun reform advocates ― including survivors and relatives of students from other mass shootings ― gathered at the steps of the state Capitol, repeatedly chanting “Raise the age!” and “Vote him out!”
“Our kids are going back to school and asking, ‘Will I be next?’” Javier Cazares, whose daughter Jackie died in the Uvalde shooting, told the crowd.
Rhonda Hart, whose daughter Kimberly died in a 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School, contrasted Texans’ easy access to high-powered rifles with the strict rules she had to follow in the Army.
“I had three weeks of training before I was allowed to handle [an] M16,” she said, in reference to the military firearm.
Several speakers tearfully told stories about family members who died in the May 24 shooting.
“My sister leaves behind her only child, who has to go on without her,” said Maggie Mireles Thomas, referring to teacher Eva Mireles. “Eva was strong. She could have taken [the shooter] ― but not with this weapon.”
Gun reform advocates generally want to see more aggressive restrictions on assault rifles.
Raising the minimum age for purchase would be a smaller and more politically feasible step.
It’s a legal change that might have made a major difference in Uvalde. In that case, the shooter legally bought the assault rifle that was used in the attack shortly after his 18th birthday.
“The age needs to be raised to 21,” Cross told HuffPost. “Our kids would still be alive.”
Allowing people so young to buy firearms that can quickly kill large numbers of people increases the chances of such shootings occurring again, said Ana Rodriguez, who lost her 10-year-old daughter Maite.
“I know firsthand the type of damage that they can do,” Rodriguez said. “Is it absolutely necessary for an 18-year-old kid to own ... a weapon of a war? An 18-year-old is just a kid.”
Abbott, an enthusiastic promoter of firearms, has so far shown little interest in the proposal. Asked whether the governor supports raising the minimum age of purchase, a spokesperson declined to answer, pointing instead to Abbott’s efforts to promote school safety and mental health.
“As Governor Abbott has said from day one, all options remain on the table as he continues working with state and local leaders to prevent future tragedies and deploy all available resources to support the Uvalde community as they heal,” Press Secretary Renae Eze wrote in an email. “More announcements are expected in the coming days and weeks as the legislature deliberates proposed solutions.”
Several parents, however, said their private discussions with Abbott went poorly earlier this month, with the governor flatly dismissing their questions about raising the age to buy semi-automatic rifles.
According to one parent, Abbott said raising the minimum age wouldn’t make a difference, citing the use of a shotgun by the Santa Fe High School shooter. Several said he immediately steered the conversation toward the subject of mental health.
That disinterest left a bad impression with several parents. One regretted meeting with him, saying her daughter never liked him.
“We asked him if he could name a victim, and he said no,” Cross told HuffPost. “He couldn’t name one. He said, ‘Not off the top of my head.’”
The Texas Legislature meets for a few months every other year. The state only considers new laws in response to events like the Uvalde shooting if the governor calls a special session.
Even if Abbott were to call one, the proposal to raise the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles would face an uncertain path. Both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Republicans. In recent years, the party has moved to loosen gun regulations, with a 2015 law allowing the concealed carry of handguns on university campuses and a 2021 law allowing people to carry the weapons without a license.
But the Uvalde parents draw hope from gun reform advocates’ success in Florida. In 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican presiding over a GOP-dominated Legislature, signed a reform measure raising the legal age to buy firearms to 21 in response to the school shooting in Parkland.
Kimberly Rubio, whose daughter Lexi died in the Uvalde shooting, said she hopes Abbott will do the same.
“My main goal is just to be heard,” Rubio said. “And if he doesn’t deliver, we’re going to vote him out.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story referred to the child of Brett Cross as “Uri.” His name is Uziyah, or “Uzi.”