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'No one is immune to a bullet' | Uvalde victims' families pushing for change and accountability as Texas Legislature begins business

Jesse Rizo said securing bipartisan support for proposed bills such as raising the firearms purchase age will be a challenge.

UVALDE, Texas — Uvalde families scarred by tragedy are keeping strong, continuing to tell their stories seven months after the worst school shooting in Texas history.  Victims’ loved ones hope to bring their advocacy to Austin as the Texas Legislature returns.

“The constant reminder is that we don’t have our loved ones,” said Berlinda Arreola. “We don’t want to have a repeat of 2022 or previous massacres that have taken place.”

Arreola and Dora Mendoza are among the families of 21 Robb Elementary shooting victims, who have been fighting for change since the shooting on May 24, 2022.

They lost their 10-year-old granddaughter Amerie Jo Garza in the chaos, which prompted months of across-the-board scrutiny of government entities and law enforcement.

Two Texas Department of Public Safety officers have been fired for their response on the day of the mass shooting, following a DPS investigation. 

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District reformed its police department, beginning with the firing of Chief Pete Arredondo in August. 

Families of the Robb Elementary victims are advocating for a host of legal changes, including the expansion of background checks, red flag laws and raising the age to buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21.

“No one is immune to a bullet. We have to try to make that change,” Arreola said.

Jesse Rizo’s motivation to keep pressing for accountability comes from learning about the murder of his 9-year-old niece Jacklyn “Jackie” Cazares. 

Rizo said securing bipartisan support for proposed bills such as raising the firearms purchase age will be a challenge.

“We know we’re not going to get a 100% participation there, but we’re going to try our best to get to that point, but it’s going to take one-by-one meeting individually and try to negotiate some kind of deal with them,” Rizo said.

Texas State Sen. Roland Gutierrez plans on filing a letter to lawmakers in both chambers that urges them to sign a non-disclosure agreement so they can gain access to seeing the devastation caused by an AR-15 on the lives of 19 children and two teachers. 

Gutierrez has criticized Gov. Greg Abbott and DPS Director Col. Steve McCraw for months for their overall response to the shooting and perceived lack of action to prevent further tragedies from happening.  

“We have to talk about our kids, and we have to talk about how to make our communities safer,” Gutierrez said. 

Texas lawmakers are tasked with appropriating nearly $30 billion worth of extra cash of $188 billion available funds. 

Gutierrez suggests allocating a large chunk of the money on mental health care and bolstering school security.

In addition to the firearms age bill, he's behind legislation that would require every law enforcement officer to undergo active shooter training. 

“See for yourselves how badly we failed," Gutierrez said, directing his comments at fellow state lawmakers. "How badly cops failed, how badly our system failed and badly we neglected rural Texas."

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