We Owe the Uvalde Community More Than Thoughts and Prayers. We Owe Them Action.

Uvalde Anniversary

Content warning: Uvalde school shooting/mass shooting, death

The deadliest school shooting in Texas’ history happened a year ago at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

Summer break would begin in mere days, and it’s easy to imagine what the inside of Robb Elementary looked like just moments before the tragedy — kids chattering about swimming and sleepovers with their friends. Pajama Day. Coloring. Signing pages in each other’s yearbooks. Making friendship bracelets. Exchanging numbers to keep in touch. Receiving certificates for making the honor roll or having perfect attendance all year. 

Maybe teachers were playing movies in their classrooms — feeling relief that standardized tests were over and reflecting in awe at all their students had learned — so close to a well-deserved break to spend time with family and plan for the 2023 school year.

Just two and a half hours into the day, the joy that so many of us remember as kids anxiously awaiting summer was shattered. At 11:32 am, the shooting began, and Uvalde would be forever transformed by grief and an ongoing fight to change Texas firearm laws to save other communities from the same devastation.

19 students and two teachers had their lives stolen on May 24, 2022:

As families laid their loved ones to rest and the people of Uvalde grieved as a community, it quickly came to light that the law enforcement response on May 24 left more questions than answers — with major failings at the center of the day’s timeline. It’s possible that a more strategic approach might’ve saved lives, and an investigation into this continues. 

And while officials and families grappled with this reality, calls for common sense gun reform were reignited.

Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke interrupted a news conference the day after the shooting, yelling, “This is on you,” as Gov. Greg Abbott gave the same “thoughts and prayers” speech he’s given after the seven mass shootings that have occurred during his tenure as Texas governor — complete with calls to “address mental health issues.” At the same time, Texas continues to rank 51st in the nation for access to mental health care.

Days after the governor’s tepid news conference, he joined Senator Ted Cruz for an NRA convention.

Uvalde-born actor Matthew McConaughey traveled to the White House and called on lawmakers to “make the loss of these lives matter,” at one point gripping the green Converse used to identify the body of Maite Rodriguez.

Now, one year later, we’re preparing to end this legislative session — and despite the near-constant presence of Uvalde families at our Capitol calling for simple measures to make Texans safer — close to nothing has been done to stop these tragedies from happening in the future. Not even in the wake of a recent racially-motivated mass shooting at the Allen Premium Outlets outside of Dallas.

Though there was one moment of triumph this session when HB 2744 — the “raise the age” bill which would’ve raised the minimum age to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 — was passed out of its assigned committee, the celebration was brief. The Texas House refused to debate the bill on the floor before a crucial legislative deadline, and all hopes of its passage stopped there.

In the Lonestar state, it’s progress even to get a bill like HB 2744 voted out of committee. Some advocates feel this symbolizes lawmakers taking the public’s cries for change more seriously. One bill championed by gun safety advocates, SB 728, is headed to the governor’s desk. The legislation requires courts to report involuntary mental health hospitalizations of juveniles age 16 and older for inclusion in the federal gun background check system — a measure that could’ve been critical in keeping a gun out of the Uvalde shooter’s hands. Gov. Abbott has until June 18 to sign the bill into law. 

As we reflect on the anniversary of this tragedy, we wish there was more change to point to. We wish our leaders would’ve focused this session on keeping Texans safe instead of targeting border communities, attempting to erase LGBTQIA+ Texans, and attacking public education.

However, elections have consequences. We will have our time to hold many of these lawmakers accountable for this senseless act of violence that could’ve been prevented. We owe the children, families, and residents of Uvalde more than thoughts and prayers. We owe them action — which is a promise we can honor next time we’re at the ballot box. 

For today, and every day since May 24, 2022 — our hearts and actions are with Uvalde and a community that will forever be healing and forever be changed.