UVALDE, Texas — President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden offered comfort Sunday to a city gripped by grief and anger as they paid respects at a memorial to 19 students and two teachers slain during a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.
The visit to Uvalde was Biden’s second trip in as many weeks to console a community in mourning after a staggering loss from a shooting. He traveled to Buffalo, New York, on May 17 to meet with victims’ families and condemn white supremacy after a shooter espousing the racist “replacement theory” killed 10 Black people at a supermarket.
Outside Robb Elementary School, Biden stopped at a memorial of 21 white crosses — one for each of those killed — and the first lady added a bouquet of white flowers to a pile in front of the school sign. They viewed individual altars erected in memory of each student, and the first lady touched the children’s photos as the couple moved along the row.
The shootings in Texas and New York and their aftermath put a fresh spotlight on the nation’s entrenched divisions and its inability to forge consensus on actions to reduce gun violence.
“Evil came to that elementary school classroom in Texas, to that grocery store in New York, to far too many places where innocents have died,” Biden said Saturday in a commencement address at the University of Delaware. “We have to stand stronger. It is essential that we stand taller. We cannot outlaw tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer.”
After visiting the memorial, Biden arrived for Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where a teacher nearby held up a sign that said, “Mr. I’m a teacher. I’m a teacher.” Later, the president planned to meet privately with family members at a community center and then with first responders at the airport before returning to Washington, the White House said. He wasn’t expected to give any formal remarks.
Mckinzie Hinojosa, whose cousin Eliahana Torres was killed Tuesday, said she respected Biden’s decision to mourn with the people of Uvalde.
“It’s more than mourning,” she said. “We want change. “We want change. We want action. It happens. It’s on the news. It makes people cry. Then it’s gone. Nobody cares. It happens again. And again.”
“If there’s anything if I could tell Joe Biden, as it is, just to respect our community while he’s here, and I’m sure he will,” she added. “But we need change. We need to do something about it.”
The Bidens’ visit comes amid mounting scrutiny of the police response to the shooting. Officials disclosed Friday that teachers and students repeatedly called 911 for assistance while a commander of police told over a dozen officers to stand in a corridor. Officials claimed that the commander thought the suspect was in a classroom adjoining and was not under active threat.
It caused further grief and raises questions as to whether there were more deaths due to officers not acting faster in order stop the gunman.
“It’s easy to point fingers right now,” said Ronnie Garza, a Uvalde County commissioner, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” before adding, “Our community needs to focus on healing right now’
Police have confirmed that the shooter purchased legally two firearms not too long before the school attack. An AR-style rifle was bought on May 17, and an AR-2 rifle on May 20, respectively. He was 18 when he purchased the weapons in accordance with federal law.
Biden declared Saturday that the response needed to this attack had to change.
“I call on all Americans at this hour to join hands and make your voices heard, to work together to make this nation what it can and should be,” Biden said. “I know we can do this. We’ve done it before.’’
Hours after the shooting, Biden had delivered an impassioned plea for additional gun control legislation, asking: “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? We are willing to accept this violence. Why do we keep letting this happen?”
Over the years, Biden has been intimately involved in the gun control movement’s most notable successes, such as the 1994 assault weapons ban, and its most troubling disappointments, including the failure to pass new legislation after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Biden tried, in his capacity as president to curb gun violence with executive orders. He faces few new options now, but executive action might be the best the president can do, given Washington’s sharp divisions on gun control legislation.
Members of a bipartisan team of senators met over the weekend in Congress to discuss whether or not they can reach even a slight compromise on gun safety legislation, after more than a decade of mostly unsuccessful efforts.
Encouraging state “red flag” laws to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues, as well as addressing school security and mental health resources are on the table, said Sen. Chris Murphy, who is leading the effort.
While there is nowhere near enough support from Republicans in Congress for broader gun safety proposals popular with the public, including an assault weapons ban or universal background checks on gun purchases, Murphy, D-Conn., told ABC’s “This Week” that these other ideas are “not insignificant.”
Under a 10-day deadline, the group will meet once again to try and reach an agreement.
“There are more Republicans interested in talking about finding a path forward this time than I have ever seen since Sandy Hook,” said Murphy who represented the Newtown area as a congressman at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting. “And while, in the end, I may end up being heartbroken, I am at the table in a more significant way right now with Republicans and Democrats than ever before.”
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