Uvalde, Highland Park families rally in Washington, D.C., for assault weapons ban

It's been almost two months since Kimberly Rubio's 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed along with 18 other children and two teachers in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and she can't stop thinking about the massacre.

"My mind has been running nonstop since May 24," Rubio said Wednesday at a rally in Washington, D.C., where families and survivors of recent massacres in Uvalde and Highland Park, Ill., came together to call on Congress to ban assault weapons.

"I try to view Room 111 through her eyes," Rubio said. "I picture which side of the room she and her classmates huddled against as an 18-year-old gunman fired toward them, killing them so swiftly that a teacher who lay bleeding nearby said he didn't hear a whimper or cry.”

Rubio was consoled by her husband, Felix, a deputy with the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office who responded to the shooting, as she spoke through tears.

Felix and Kimberly Rubio embrace at a rally near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Felix and Kimberly Rubio embrace at a rally near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

"Now I want you to picture my face, my husband's face, as we read our daughter's death certificate," she continued. "Our faces contorted in pain, tears flowing freely as we read her cause of death: gunshot wound to the head."

Rubio recalled that she was with her daughter at 10:54 on the morning of the shooting at an end-of-year awards ceremony at the school. She said she's now left to ponder a "whole lot of ‘what-ifs.’"

"What if I had taken her home after the awards ceremony?" she said. "What if the doors had just locked properly? The outside door leading into the school, the classroom door that the shooter seemed to intentionally seek out. What if the police had immediately engaged the subject?

"These are all questions that do not weigh heavily on lawmakers," Rubio added. "But there is one question that should be on the forefront of their minds: What if the gunman never had access to an assault weapon?"

Bouquets of flowers and markers with the names of the children killed are stacked in front of sign saying: Welcome Robb Elementary School, Benvenida.
The memorial outside Robb Elementary School. (Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters)

Wednesday’s rally took place a month and a half after the mass shooting in Uvalde and less than two weeks after a gunman wielding a high-powered semiautomatic rifle fired more than 80 rounds on a crowd at Highland Park’s annual Fourth of July parade, killing seven people and injuring dozens of others.

Survivors of the Highland Park shooting traveled to Washington this week, where, alongside families of Uvalde victims, they met with lawmakers, including Illinois’s two Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, to discuss gun safety reforms. Those meetings and Wednesday’s rally were organized by March Fourth, a grassroots advocacy group founded by a local mother after the Highland Park attack.

Duckworth spoke at the rally, where she called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“At the end of the day, no one should be buying assault weapons, period, because they should be banned,” she said. “There is no need for anyone to have a hundred-round drum that can fire literally dozens and dozens of rounds at high velocity in a short amount of time.”

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, repeated a statement she’d made in the immediate aftermath of the Highland Park shooting: “The last time I heard that type of gunfire was on the battlefield,” calling semiautomatic assault rifles like the ones used in Highland Park and Uvalde “weapons of war.”

And she dismissed an argument she said she often hears from gun rights advocates, who insist they need assault weapons to hunt.

“By the way, if you are using an AR-15, an M-4, an AK-47 to hunt, you’re not eating what you’re hunting, because you will shred that animal,” she said, adding, “If you’re using a hundred-round drum to go hunting, I don't want to go hunting with you.”

An FBI agent attends to an array of more than a dozen abandoned strollers.
An FBI agent on July 7 clears abandoned belongings from the scene of a mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill. (Cheney Orr/Reuters)

In addition to Duckworth, rally-goers heard from Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Brad Schneider, D-Ill., and from survivors of the Fourth of July shooting. Schneider is a resident of Highland Park who represents the district that includes the suburb in Congress.

Among the speakers was Abby Brosio, a science teacher and mother of two who attended the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park with her children, ages 1 and 3, and her husband's parents. They were sitting outside the Gearhead Outfitters store in downtown Highland Park, where her husband was working as the manager, when the gunman opened fire from a roof nearby.

Brosio described how the wholesome family event devolved into chaos and carnage in a matter of seconds, leaving her frantically searching for her children in the crowd and scrambling to assist those who had been wounded beside her. She described being plagued by panic attacks in the days since, concerned about the impact of the attack on her children as well as her husband, whose workplace is now the center of a crime scene.

“These feelings make me feel trapped, not free,” she said.

[Also read: Families who sought safety in Highland Park grapple with reality of gun violence]

Brosio drew on her experience as a science teacher to offer a simple solution for the “very big problem” of gun violence in the United States.

“When I teach students problem-solving skills from a scientific standpoint, students learn the basics of identifying and changing variables within a problem to test different outcomes,” she said. While a number of strategies have been put in place over the years, including implementing active shooter drills and other security measures at schools and workplaces, and improving law enforcement protocols for those responding to mass shootings, Brosio argued that “none of these changed variables have allowed us to arrive at our desired outcome: to stop mass shootings.”

“Let’s change a different variable,” she implored. Specifically, “removing access to assault weapons. Let’s just test it. If it doesn’t work, then back to the drawing boards.”