Thousands are expected to gather in Austin, Texas, on Saturday to demand that Gov. Greg Abbott act to prevent further loss of life in the state. About a dozen parents and family members who lost loved ones in the Uvalde school shooting in May will address the crowd from the Texas Capitol steps.
With schools across Texas having already welcomed students back into the classroom, gun safety advocates are calling for the governor to hold a special session so state lawmakers can vote on whether to raise the minimum age for purchasing AR-15-style rifles from 18 to 21.
The youth-led gun safety advocacy group March for Our Lives is heading the rally, backed by the families of the students and teachers slain at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. They believe Abbott has done little to nothing since the gunman used a legally purchased AR-15-style rifle to kill 19 children and two teachers.
"We're here to drive home the message that we are living on borrowed time, and more kids will die if we don't take action like raising the age to purchase an AR-15 to 21," March for Our Lives spokesperson Noah Lumbantobing told NPR.
Abbot announced this month that the Texas Department of Public Safety would dispatch more than 30 law enforcement officers — at the request of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District — to Uvalde for the new school year. However, when March for Our Lives and the parents asked the governor about enacting stricter gun laws, he said it wouldn't happen, Lumbantobing said.
Ana Rodriguez, 35, is one of those parents. She will speak to the crowd on Saturday about her daughter, Maite Rodriguez, who was one of the students shot and killed on May 24.
"I want to be able to speak about her but also talk about how her life was so meaninglessly taken by this 18-year-old kid who was able to purchase these weapons of war and ammunition, and how I am demanding that the age go up in a special session," Rodriguez told NPR. "I'm not going to ask — I'm going to demand."
She says raising the minimum age for buying an AR-15-style rifle just makes sense. An 18-year-old is still a child, she said. Though 18-year-olds are considered adults in the eyes of the law, their brains aren't fully developed. She believes 21 is still too young, but it's better than 18.
"The fact that an 18-year-old mentally unstable child was able to purchase what he purchased legally and do what he did to our children is mind-boggling," Rodriguez said. "If I could have it my way, I would have [AR-15-style rifles] banned, but I don't think that'll happen. So I think 21 or 25 is the minimum they could do."
Lumbantobing said he has found that Texans support responsible gun ownership, including some restrictions. He thinks multiple mass shootings in the state have changed the minds of many gun owners who were previously against stricter gun laws.
"It's hit close to home for a lot of Texans, as it has in the past. And for Texans, these are children's lives we are talking about," Lumbantobing said. "It's hard to imagine that being your child shot in first or second period. It's moved people emotionally to want this sort of change."
The school district voted on Wednesday to fire Pete Arredondo, the police chief in charge of the response to the shooting. The families of the slain children and teachers had been calling since late May for his termination, one of many steps taken since the shooting.
This summer, the governor ordered state school safety officials to take precautionary measures to ensure student safety. Abbott laid out his directions in a letter, which mentioned steps such as safety trainings for school staff and access-point assessments of school buildings.
But Lumbantobing said hardening schools won't keep students safe, citing law enforcement officers on-site at schools previously targeted by shooters. He believes that increasing the minimum age for purchasing AR-15-style weapons will ultimately save lives and that the power to bring the proposal to the people lies with Abbott and Abbott alone.
Rodriguez bought bulletproof backpacks for her surviving children, 11 and 15, for this school year. And the school has implemented a handful of other security measures to try to keep students safe. But she's worried that attempts to make schools safer will make them seem more like prisons.
Abbott has argued that mental health is at the core of America's gun violence epidemic, not firearms themselves. Rodriguez says mental health is part of the problem but that refusing to acknowledge that guns play a part as well is ridiculous.
She hopes people will attend the rally on Saturday. More so, she hopes people will listen, including the governor, who she is demanding put the issue to a vote of the people.
"Three months ago, it was my child," Rodriguez said. "Tomorrow it could be yours."