A House committee hearing on Wednesday provided a high-profile platform for an 11-year-old survivor of the Uvalde elementary school shooting and others affected by gun violence to tell their harrowing stories to the American public.
The hearing took place as lawmakers face pressure to act in the wake of the horrific massacre in Texas and a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators are attempting to reach a deal to respond to the tragedies, but it remains to be seen whether Congress will pass any legislation given the highly polarized political environment and widespread Republican opposition to stricter gun control.
Here were some of the key moments from Wednesday’s hearing on gun violence convened by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform:
Uvalde shooting survivor speaks out in emotional account
In a pre-recorded video, 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, a fourth-grade student at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, described what it was like to survive the mass shooting. It marked a rare moment for Congress to hear testimony from someone as young as Cerrillo on a subject as sensitive and disturbing as gun violence.
In the taped recording, Cerrillo said she wants “to have security” and is afraid of experiencing another school shooting.
She described trying to hide behind her teacher’s desk and said the gunman “told my teacher ‘goodnight,’ and shot her in the head.” Cerrillo said she thought the gunman would come back to the room and described covering herself in blood in an attempt to survive. “I put it all over me,” she said.
Miguel Cerrillo, Miah’s father, grew emotional as he said the shooting had changed his daughter.
“Today I come because I could have lost my baby girl,” he said. “She is not the same little girl that I used to play with, and run around with and do everything, because she was daddy’s little girl.”
“I wish something would change, not only for our kids, but for every single kid in the world, because schools are not safe anymore,” he said. “Something needs to really change.”
Family members of shooting victims make plea for gun control
Several family members of gun violence victims testified during the hearing and called for action on gun control in a direct appeal to lawmakers.
Felix and Kimberly Rubio, the parents of Lexi Rubio, a 10-year-old killed in the Uvalde school massacre, testified during the hearing, and Kimberly outlined a list of demands for specific gun policies they want to see enacted.
“Today, we stand for Lexi, and, as her voice, we demand action,” Kimberly said.
Here is what she called for:
- “We seek a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. We understand that for some reason, to some people, to people with money, to people who fund political campaigns, that guns are more important than children. So at this moment we ask for progress.”
- “We seek to raise the age to purchase these weapons from 18 to 21 years of age.”
- “We seek red flag laws, stronger background checks.”
- “We also want to repeal gun manufacturers’ liability immunity.”
Zeneta Everhart, the mother of Zaire Goodman, a survivor of the Buffalo supermarket shooting, also made a plea for lawmakers to take legislative action.
“Lawmakers who continuously allow these mass shootings to continue by not passing stricter gun laws should be voted out,” she said in her testimony.
“As an elected official it is your duty to draft legislation that protects Zaire and all of the children and citizens in this country,” she said.
Witnesses give first-hand description of the horrors of gun violence
A number of the witnesses at the hearing gave first-hand descriptions of the horrific reality – and aftermath – of gun violence.
Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician, described witnessing what he called the “carnage in my hometown of Uvalde.” Guerrero – who said he’s lived in Uvalde his whole life and treated children in the community before the massacre – said that he “raced” to Uvalde Memorial Hospital on the day of the mass shooting. “I’ll never forget what I saw that day,” he said. He described in graphic detail the horrors that he saw, including children whose bodies had been so brutalized by gun violence “that the only clue to their identities was blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them.”
Everhart, the mother of Zaire Goodman, described in detail her sons’ injuries.
“My son Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back and another on his left leg, caused by an exploding bullet from an AR-15. As I clean his wounds, I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life,” she said.
In an impassioned message to lawmakers, she said, “If after hearing from me and the other people testifying here today does not move you to act on gun laws, I invite you to my home to help me clean Zaire’s wounds so that you may see up close the damage that has been caused to my son and to my community.”
Mother of Buffalo shooting survivor: ‘This is who we are as a nation’
Everhart put a spotlight gun violence and racism in America in her testimony as she discussed the Buffalo supermarket shooting, which the Justice Department is investigating as a hate crime and “an act of racially motivated violent extremism.”
“America is inherently violent. This is who we are as a nation,” she said. “The very existence of this country was founded on violence, hate and racism, with the near annihilation of my Native brothers and sisters. My ancestors, brought to America through the slave trade were the first currency of America. Let me say that again for the people in the back: My ancestors, the first currency of America, were stripped of their heritage and culture, separated from their families, bargained for on auction blocks, sold, beaten, raped and lynched. Yet I continuously hear after every mass shooting that this is not who we are as Americans and as a nation. Hear me clearly: This is exactly who we are.”
Entrenched partisan divide persists in gun debate
Evidence of the entrenched partisan divide in the debate over gun policy was on full display during the hearing as Democrats urged stronger gun control, while Republicans pushed back on restrictions.
House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, called for stricter gun control at the outset of the hearing.
“Our witnesses today have endured pain and loss, yet they are displaying incredible courage by coming here to ask us to do our jobs. Let us hear their voices, let us honor their courage, let us find the same courage to pass common sense laws to protect our children,” she said.
“No civilian needs an assault rifle and the Second Amendment does not protect the right to own a weapon of war. It’s time we banned assault rifles, from our streets, from our communities, from our homes,” she said.
Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the committee, said during the hearing, “knee-jerk reactions to impose gun control policies that seek to curtail our constitutional right to bear arms are not the answer.”
“We should commend all law-abiding gun owners who safely use, store, and carry those firearms. Not vilify them for blatantly political purposes,” he said.
Maloney later said in response, “I support the Second Amendment. I support law-abiding gun owners. I don’t support lax gun laws that allow guns to get into the hands of criminals and unstable people.”