An 11-year-old survivor of the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, testified before the House oversight committee on Wednesday, as lawmakers continued to try to reach a compromise on gun control legislation after a series of devastating mass shootings.
The House hearing came two weeks after an 18-year-old opened fire at Robb elementary school, killing 19 children and two teachers, and three weeks after 10 people were killed at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Miah Cerrillo, a fourth-grader at the Uvalde school, recounted how she watched as her teacher and friends were shot and acted quickly to save herself. Miah covered herself in a friend’s blood and played dead until she was able to reach her teacher’s phone and call police.
In her recorded testimony, Miah said she no longer felt safe at school.
“Because I don’t want it to happen again,” she said.
The slow police response to the Uvalde shooting has been the focus of intense scrutiny and criticism.
Miah was joined by other families affected by gun violence, including Felix and Kimberly Rubio, whose daughter Lexi died in Uvalde, and Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was injured in Buffalo. Ten people were killed there, by another gunman with an AR-15-style rifle.
“We don’t want you to think of Lexi as just a number,” Rubio told the committee. “She was intelligent, compassionate and athletic. So today we stand for Lexi, and as her voice we demand action.”
The wrenching hearing took place as pressure mounts on Congress to act. Members of the House passed a wide-ranging gun control bill on Wednesday just hours after victims testified. It would raise the age limit for buying a semi-automatic rifle and prohibit the sale of ammunition magazines with a capacity of more than 15 rounds.
The legislation is all but doomed to fail in the evenly matched Senate, where 60 votes are needed to pass most legislation. A bipartisan group of senators has been negotiating over a possible compromise on gun control, but any legislation that can make it through the Senate will probably be far narrower than proposals approved by the House.
Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, indicated on Tuesday that Democrats’ proposal to raise the age requirement for buying semi-automatic weapons was unlikely to be included in the Senate bill.
“That can be in the discussion, but right now we’re trying to work on things where we have agreement,” Tillis told CNN. “We’ve got a lot of people in the discussion. We’ve got to get 60 votes.”
But the House bill does allow Democratic lawmakers a chance to frame for voters in November where they stand on policies that polls show are widely supported.
“We can’t save every life, but my God, shouldn’t we try? America, we hear you and today in the House we are taking the action you are demanding,” said Veronica Escobar, a congresswoman from Texas. “Take note of who is with you and who is not.”
Gun control experts and New York mayor Eric Adams also testified at the hearing on the need to restrict access to firearms and, by extension, reduce violent crime.
“It is high noon in America, time for every one of us to decide where we stand on the issue of gun violence,” Adams said. “I am here today to ask every one of you, and everyone in this Congress, to stand with me to end gun violence and protect the lives of all Americans.”
But the emotional and searing testimony did not stop Republicans on the committee rehashing talking points about why they oppose gun restrictions.
“Kneejerk reactions to impose gun control policies that seek to curtail our constitutional right to bear arms are not the answer,” said James Comer, the Republican ranking member.
The Democratic chair of the committee, Carolyn Maloney, criticized Republican efforts to deflect attention from the need to reform gun laws.
“They have blamed violent video games. They have blamed family values. They have even blamed open doors. They have blamed everything but guns,” Maloney said. “But we know the United States does not have a monopoly on mental illness, video games or any other excuse. What America does have is widespread access to guns.”
Despite such disputes, senators have voiced confidence that they can craft a compromise bill. Members of the group met again Wednesday, and John Cornyn, a Republican of Texas, expressed hope that they would soon strike an agreement.
“I think it’s reasonable to expect in the next couple weeks, maybe this work period, that that would be – I’m just speaking for myself – an aspirational goal,” Cornyn said. “But obviously, we have 100 senators who are free agents, and they can do anything they want on whatever timetable.”
The families whose lives have been forever altered by gun violence came to the House on Wednesday with specific demands.
Everhart asked for more schools to teach Black history so children would understand the violent history of white supremacy, given that the Buffalo shooter voiced support for racist conspiracy theories.
Rubio also called on lawmakers to ban assault rifles, raise the age requirement to buy semi-automatic weapons and enact a national “red flag” law.
“We understand that for some reason, to some people – to people with money, to people who fund political campaigns – that guns are more important than children. So at this moment, we ask for progress,” Rubio said.
“Somewhere out there, there’s a mom listening to our testimony thinking, ‘I can’t even imagine their pain’ – not knowing that our reality will one day be hers unless we act now.”