Victims of gun violence and their families pleaded with lawmakers for stronger gun control laws in gripping testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning. Among those testifying was Miah Cerrillo, an 11-year-old who survived the recent massacre at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.
“I grabbed the blood and put it all over me,” Cerrillo told lawmakers in recorded testimony to the House Oversight Committee.
Her father, Miguel Cerrillo, traveled to Washington to testify. “I coulda lost my baby girl,” he said. “She is not the same little girl.”
It was the second day in a row that the nation was riveted by emotional pleas about gun control. The day before, Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey appeared at a White House briefing, delivering an impassioned speech about what he had seen in his native Uvalde.
“We can’t truly be leaders if we are only living for reelection,” McConaughey said from the briefing room podium, in a stinging rebuke to Republicans who may fear a primary challenge funded by gun rights advocates.
McConaughey was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday meeting with legislators.
The House of Representatives was set to vote on eight gun control measures on Wednesday. The measures would raise the age to purchase semiautomatic weapons to 21, ban high-capacity magazines and set new gun storage rules.
But the Senate is where the fate of any new gun regulations rests because of the sharp partisan divisions there. A bipartisan group in the upper chamber is working on a proposal that would expand background checks and incentivize red flags laws that make it easier to confiscate guns from troubled individuals.
President Biden envisioned more ambitious curbs on access to guns in a speech on June 2, including a reinstitution of the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chaired Wednesday’s hearing, took up that call.
“These weapons have no place in our communities,” she said in her opening statement. “No civilian needs an assault rifle, and the Second Amendment does not protect the right to own a weapon of war.”
A few minutes later, Zeneta Everhart described what a high-powered rifle had done to her son Zaire, a survivor of the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., in May. “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.”
Some advocates of gun control believe that Americans need to hear, in precisely such unvarnished language, the effects of gun violence on people. Since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, the media has generally abstained from sharing gruesome details of killings. But as the toll of gun violence mounts, those norms are falling away.
Dr. Roy Guerrero, a Uvalde pediatrician, testified about treating “two children whose bodies had been pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been [so] ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities was the blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them.”
Republicans have been steadfastly resistant to new gun control measures. In his own opening statement, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the committee’s leading Republican, counseled the victims and their families seated before him to resist “knee-jerk reactions to impose gun control policies.”
Since 2016, Comer’s campaigns have taken $150,000 from the National Rifle Association. Later, Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Republican who owns a gun store in Georgia, argued that signs declaring schools “gun-free zones” should be removed. A policy expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation who served as one of the two Republican witnesses at the hearing spoke vehemently about the need to keep school doors closed.
Republicans have argued that bolstering school security and expanding mental health services (which many of them have, in fact, cut) would be more effective than implementing gun control measures. In the meantime, the killing has only continued, with bloodshed across the nation throughout the first weekend of June.
Many of the witnesses simply pleaded with the legislators seated before them to recognize the scope of the problem and to act accordingly.
“We are bleeding out,” Guerrero lamented. “And you are not there.”