President Biden wiped away tears at a memorial to the Texas school shooting victims Sunday, as the Justice Department announced it will formally scrutinize the fumbled police response that sparked outrage in the grieving town of Uvalde.
Justice spokesman Anthony Coley said federal investigators accepted a request by Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin to conduct a critical incident review.
Texas officials say officers did not enter the classroom and kill the gunman until 78 minutes after the shooter entered the school. On-scene commanders determined they faced a barricaded subject and not an active shooter — even as children called 911 from inside the room, where 19 children and two adults died.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw, in an eyebrow-raising press conference Friday, said officers made the wrong call by waiting for backup and equipment from a tactical unit.
The revelations prompted calls for federal oversight after students and teachers appeared to follow their active-shooting training but police did not.
“The goal of the review is to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events,” Mr. Coley said.
SEE ALSO: Justice Department announces review of police response to Texas school shooting
Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez said Sunday it is possible that wounded children died because officers waited in the hallway instead of rushing into the classroom.
The Democratic lawmaker said there is evidence that one child was shot through the kidney area and bled out, raising questions about the consequences of the delayed response.
“That little girl might have lived,” Mr. Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “So many things went wrong here. I’m asking a lot of questions.”
“The whole thing is a shame. I’m disgusted by all of it,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “At the end of the day, the protocols were breached.”
Mr. Biden did not deliver a speech in Uvalde but met victims’ families and stopped at a memorial near Robb Elementary School.
The first couple touched the faces of victims depicted in cardboard cutouts set up at the memorial, which also featured small white crosses with the names of the victims.
SEE ALSO: President Biden, first lady visit memorial to Texas school shooting victims
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited the memorial around the same time. Social media videos showed spectators booing and yelling, “Shame on you,” from a distance as pressure mounts on state and federal policymakers to address gun violence.
“Do something!” someone in the crowd yelled as Mr. Biden left mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde.
“We will,” the president said.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin said Sunday he is hopeful that Capitol Hill negotiators can strike a deal to rein in gun violence given the extent of disgust with the Texas tragedy.
“I can’t say for certain but I can tell you I sense a different feeling among my colleagues after Uvalde,” the Illinois Democrat told CNN.
Mr. Durbin said the talks focus in part on red-flag laws that prevent people from owning firearms if they are demonstrating alarming conduct.
He also called for a crackdown on “straw purchases,” in which a person with an unblemished background buys a gun and gives it to a person with a criminal record.
“America is sick and tired of political excuses,” Mr. Durbin said. “We have to respond with something positive that shows America we care.”
Mr. Durbin said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who is outspoken on gun violence, and Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, are key players in talks. The majority whip told them to find some kind of bipartisan victory, even if it bypasses the typical committees.
He said a full ban on military-style firearms like the AR-15 — sometimes dubbed “assault” weapons — is unlikely given political opposition and the proliferation of the weapons in American households.
Vice President Kamala Harris called for a ban on these weapons during a visit Saturday to Buffalo, New York, to mourn with families after a gunman killed 10 persons while targeting Black shoppers at a grocery store on May 14.
“We are not sitting around waiting to figure out what the solution looks like. You know, we’re not looking for a vaccine. We know what works on this,” Ms. Harris told reporters in Buffalo. “Let’s have an assault weapons ban.”
Mr. Murphy said he would love to ban military-style weapons but he won’t let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” He said more Republicans are willing to negotiate than after the 2012 shooting at the school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Senators are discussing “not insignificant” changes that would focus on red-flag laws, strengthening background checks, promoting safe storage of guns, mental health resources and security funding for schools, according to Mr. Murphy.
“A package that really, in the end, could have a significant downward pressure on gun violence in this country,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
Some lawmakers want to raise the age for purchasing an AR-15 and similar weapons from 18 to 21, given the young age of recent perpetrators.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who is leaving Congress, said more than 99% of AR-15 owners are responsible but he would be willing to discuss ways to restrict ownership, including a “special license” should be required or raising the purchase age.
“I’m definitely ready to engage in that conversation, and maybe that ultimately includes not selling them anymore,” he told ABC.
Other Republicans rejected limits on gun ownership, focusing instead on school security and social issues in the wake of the shootings in Texas and Buffalo.
“What we need now is a top-to-bottom security overhaul at schools all across our country. Every building should have a single point of entry,” former President Donald Trump said Friday at a National Rifle Association forum in Houston. “There should be strong exterior fencing, metal detectors and the use of new technology to make sure that no unauthorized individual can ever enter the school with a weapon.”
Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama Republican, said mass shootings were rare when he grew up and the country needs to focus on morals.
“The big difference is the decline in moral values, respect for human life,” Mr. Brooks told “Fox News Sunday.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Texas Republican, said raising the purchase age for an AR-15 would be slippery slope.
If a 22-year-old commits an atrocity, he said, “are we going to raise it again?”
Mr. Crenshaw said he did not support a universal background check provision that would cover private transfers between neighbors or friends.
And he was wary of red-flag laws at the state or federal level, underscoring the long odds Democrats face in getting bipartisan buy-in for their ideas.
“That’s a difficult thing to do,” Mr. Crenshaw said of red-flag implementation. “It’s really unclear how they’re properly enforced, how due process is properly adhered to.”
He said Republicans are more willing to support changes that could have an immediate impact, namely “actual security at school.”
Mr. Kinzinger, who supported a ban on bump stocks after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, said turning schools into secured locations akin to military bases is not practical.
“That’s not the kind of country I want to live in,” Mr. Kinzinger told CNN.
In the meantime, the Justice Department said it will offer a public accounting of its investigation into the Uvalde response so that mistakes are not replicated in other places.
“As with prior Justice Department after-action reviews of mass shootings and other critical incidents, this assessment will be fair, transparent, and independent,” Mr. Coley said. “The Justice Department will publish a report with its findings at the conclusion of its review.”
While Uvalde searched for answers, Mr. Biden on Sunday focused on his role as consoler-in-chief. It is a familiar role for the president, who references the death of his first wife and two of his children when he tries to console the families of shooting victims and those who’ve died from COVID-19.
The president removed his trademark aviator glasses at one point to wipe away a tear after visiting the memorial to victims like 9-year-old Ellie Garcia, who loved basketball and riding bikes.
“She was never angry at anyone, she loved everyone,” her uncle, Adrian Alonzo, told CNN.
Ellie would have turned 10 on Saturday.