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Mass shooting survivors testified to Congress. Here's where gun legislation stands

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where the horror that unfolded two weeks ago in Uvalde, Texas, played out at the U.S. Capitol as survivors of that tragedy testified today before Congress - survivors, including fourth grader Miah Cerrillo, who prerecorded her testimony.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIAH CERRILLO: She went to go lock the door. And he was in the hallway, and they made eye contact.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

That's the 11-year-old describing the moment her teacher learned there was an active shooter in the building. She also explained what happened next.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIAH CERRILLO: Then he shot the little window, and then he went to the other classroom. There's a door between our classrooms. And he went there and shot my teacher - and told my teacher good night and shot her in the head. And then he shot some of my classmates.

KELLY: One of those classmates was next to Miah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIAH CERRILLO: I thought he was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed the blood and put it all over me.

KELLY: Then she stayed quiet and called 911.

PFEIFFER: Uvalde pediatrician Roy Guerrero described encountering Miah in the chaotic emergency room after the shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROY GUERRERO: She was sitting in the hallway. Her face was still clearly in shock, but her whole body was shaking from the adrenaline coursing through it.

PFEIFFER: He said her white "Lilo & Stitch" shirt was covered in blood.

KELLY: And Guerrero, in graphic detail, told the committee what it was like to see children who have been shot by an AR-15.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUERRERO: Two children whose bodies have been pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been ripped apart, that the only clue at their identities was their blood-splattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them - clinging for life and finding none.

KELLY: Roy Guerrero and Miah Cerrillo were just two of many witnesses who testified today, but their testimony echoed others affected by gun violence. And all of them said they wanted the same thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUCRETIA HUGHES: Thoughts and prayers and calls for more gun control isn't enough.

GUERRERO: But making sure our children are safe from guns - that's the job of our politicians and leaders.

MIAH CERRILLO: So at this moment, we ask for progress.

MIGUEL CERRILLO: But I wish something will change, not only for our kids, but every single kid in the world because schools are not safe anymore.

PFEIFFER: That's Miguel Cerrillo, Kimberly Rubio, Roy Guerrero and Lucretia Hughes. They and several others testified before Congress today in favor of legislation to address gun violence.

KELLY: I want to bring in NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. She has been following all this on Capitol Hill today. Kelsey, hey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: The pain you hear there, the pain these families are experiencing is so fresh. Their calls for action are explicit. How was their testimony received?

SNELL: You know, there have been very different reactions depending upon where you are on Capitol Hill. In the House, Democrats called this hearing, and tonight they are approving legislation that would meet nearly all of President Biden's requests, like banning high-capacity magazines and raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic weapons. In the Senate, they're really focused on bipartisan negotiations on a narrow set of changes to gun laws. Plus, there's the political divide. Most Republicans I've talked to say the shooting in Uvalde is horrifying, but they don't think changing gun laws is the right answer.

KELLY: The thing is, it's not just Uvalde.

SNELL: Right.

KELLY: This past weekend alone, 15 people - at least 15 people - were killed in eight states in mass shooting incidents. Of course, there was Buffalo just days before Uvalde. Is Congress - either House - looking at gun violence as a whole?

SNELL: You know, that is also part of the political divide. Republicans, even those working on the Senate negotiations on that narrow bill, are focused on Uvalde, not the broader question of gun violence in the country. And I should say, lawmakers also heard from families of the victims in Buffalo, like Zeneta Everhart, whose son, Zaire Goodman, was shot and wounded there. She described the shrapnel that remains embedded in her son's body as she pleaded for a ban on assault rifles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZENETA EVERHART: If after hearing from me and the other people testifying here today does not move you to act on gun laws, I invite you to my home to help me clean Zaire's wounds so that you may see, up-close, the damage that has been caused to my son and to my community.

SNELL: I should say almost all of the victims in Buffalo were Black, and Everhart talked about white supremacy, racism and class as part of the gun violence problem in the U.S. But the efforts in the Senate are tightly focused on addressing the circumstances that led to Uvalde, not to mass shootings more broadly. You know, Republicans are specifically focusing on things like mental health and school safety and changes to the background check system tailored to avoiding another school shooting. And negotiators in the Senate want a good deal quickly. They say they're moving in a positive direction, but that means staying narrowly focused on the things that can get enough Republican support to get 60 votes in the Senate.

KELLY: You know, we talk a lot about this very narrow focus that Republicans want. Are all Democrats on board with these very narrow proposals?

SNELL: Well, part of the reason we know how many of these Republicans who are open to gun law changes feel is because they are actively part of those talks. When it comes to more liberal Democrats, most are just kind of leaving the door open. I caught up with Elizabeth Warren today, and she told me she's very aware that people want more, that she wants more. But this is how she's describing her thinking.

ELIZABETH WARREN: If we're stuck between nothing and something, something is better.

SNELL: You know, nearly every Democrat I speak to is also talking about this as a key motivating factor in the upcoming midterm elections. They want this to be a thing that brings voters to the polls. They say more Democrats in Congress means broader, bigger action.

KELLY: A really emotional day of testimony there on Capitol Hill. NPR's Kelsey Snell, thanks for being there and covering it for us.

SNELL: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.