WASHINGTON (AP) — The son of Ruth Whitfield, an 86-year-old woman killed when a gunman opened fire in a racist attack on black shoppers in BuffaloNew York challenged Congress on Tuesday to act against the “cancer of white supremacy” and the national epidemic of gun violence.
Garnell Whitfield Jr.’s moving testimony comes as lawmakers work hard to strike a bipartisan deal on gun safety measures in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings. Ten days after the shooting death of his mother and nine others in New York, another 18-year-old gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 school children and two teachers.
“What are you doing? You were elected to protect us,” Whitfield Jr. told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Is there nothing you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?” He asked. “If there is nothing then, respectfully, senators…you should cede your positions of authority and influence to others who are prepared to lead on this issue.”
The hearing is the first of two this week as families of victims and survivors of the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde appear at public hearings and events on Capitol Hill to show the human toll of gun violence on United States and urge Congress to act.
Pressing for a deal, President Joe Biden met on Tuesday with Senator Chris Murphy, a key Democratic negotiator, who has worked most of his career trying to curb the scourge of mass shootings in the country after the heartbreaking massacre of 20 children. at Sandy Hook Elementary in his home state of Connecticut ten years ago.
Murphy told reporters after the meeting that he was grateful for the opportunity to brief the president on the talks. “Obviously we still have work to do in the Senate,” he said.
Murphy said his goal was to try to get a deal done this week, but he added that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made it clear that “we need more time to put the dots together.” on the i’s and cross the t’s which will obtain it”.
Also on Tuesday, Uvalde-born actor Matthew McConaughey toured the Senate offices before heading to the White House to open the daily briefing. McConaughey, who earlier this year was considering running for governor of Texas, gave a speech about the importance of legislative action “to make the loss of these lives count.”
“We want safe and secure schools and we want gun laws that won’t make it so easy for the bad guys to get these fucking guns,” he said. The 52-year-old actor and his wife traveled to Uvalde the day after the shooting and spent time with some of the families of the victims.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee is expected to hear from more victims’ families and Miah Cerrillo, a fourth-grade student, who came to American attention after she described covering herself in the blood of her dead classmate and having played dead to survive the shooting in Uvalde.
Tuesday’s Senate hearing focused directly on the white supremacist ideology that authorities say led an 18-year-old gunman dressed in military gear to drive for hours through a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo and to broadcast his violent outburst live. The shooting left 10 dead and several injured.
“My mother’s life mattered,” Whitfield said. “Your actions here will tell us if and how much it meant to you.”
Shortly after the Buffalo Massacre, a bill that would have bolstered federal resources to prevent domestic terrorism failed in the Senate at the hands of the Republican opposition. Even in Tuesday’s hearing, Republican senators took time to focus on the displays of racial injustice that took place in the summer of 2020, citing those incidents as acts of domestic extremism.
Since the failed vote, senators have banded together and started meeting privately in a small, bipartisan group led by Murphy and Republican Sen. John Cornyn, trying to hammer out a compromise that could actually become law.
But lawmakers have been here before — unable to pass substantive gun safety laws for decades in the face of strenuous objections from Republicans in Congress, some conservative Democrats, and fierce lobbying from gun owners and of the National Rifle Association. No major legislation has been enacted since the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which has since expired.
The problem for Democrats is that a number of issues with bipartisan support likely wouldn’t have stopped the shooting in Buffalo or Uvalde. And those that gun safety advocates say have met with deep reluctance from Republicans. One of these proposals would raise the age required for the purchase of firearms from 18 to 21 years. Another measure popular among Democrats would have banned assault rifles altogether.
Instead, senators are focused on incremental policy changes through a system that would send funds and other incentives to states to make school campuses safer, provide more mental health services to young people and possibly encourage states to pursue red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who could do harm.
But one thing lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem to agree on is that inaction is not an option.
“We know we’re not going to do it all at once,” Schumer said Tuesday afternoon. “But the American people want us to do something and they want to see Republicans do something.”
His counterpart across the aisle seemed to echo the sentiment. “Almost everyone would like to get a result,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. “Hopefully we get one sooner rather than later.”
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Alan Fram and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.