(WASHINGTON) — Ten-year-old Caitlyne Gonzales’ day began early when she and her family boarded a plane bound for Washington, D.C, a flight that was crowded with people affected by the May shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Caitlyne, a survivor of the massacre, family members of some of the victims and local leaders traveled to the nation’s capital on Tuesday to speak with members of Congress during a lame-duck session in an effort to ban the sale and possession of assault-style rifles before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives this January. The group’s itinerary includes multiple meetings with U.S. senators, a vigil and a silent protest outside the Capitol Building.
“It brings me comfort that we can all be together as one,” said Caitlyne.
The group is pushing for the passage of Senate Bill 736, which would ban semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity magazines like the ones used by the shooters to gun down students at Robb Elementary, parade-goers in Highland Park, Illinois, and LGBTQ nightclub patrons in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The bill would have barred the Uvalde shooter from purchasing a rifle as he did a week before the May 24 shooting. The passing of the ban is highly unlikely before the end of the legislative session, but President Joe Biden reiterated his support for the bill last month.
The U.S. Senate has until the end of the year to pass the bill or else the voting process starts over.
“I’m going to try. I’m going to try to get rid of assault weapons,” Biden said.
Caitlyne has been an advocate for gun reform since the tragedy occurred. On May 24, she hid in her classroom as she listened to shots ring out down the hall. Her best friend, 9-year-old Jackie Cazares, was one of the 19 students killed during the massacre. She says she misses her friend’s laughter and hugs.
Since the shooting, Caitlyne has been in the local and national spotlight. She called for police accountability at school board meetings in Uvalde, for gun control at rallies in Austin, Texas, and for a national ban on assault weapons in Washington D.C.
“Turn in your badge and step down. You don’t deserve to wear one,” the 10-year-old said at a packed August school board meeting, addressing the school district’s police chief, Pete Arredondo, who was fired a few hours after her confrontation for his alleged role in the flawed police response to the shooting.
“It feels good that I’m able to make a change,” said Caitlyne a few months after that speech.
Arredondo contested his firing and requested his job back, including back pay, on the grounds that the school district violated his constitutional rights.
Caitlyne, publicly outspoken and composed, says in private she’s had trouble sleeping and is sensitive to loud noises since the shooting.
This is not her first trip to Washington, D.C., in an attempt to effect change. She has campaigned for Democratic candidates, met with U.S. Senators, and delivered speeches in front of hundreds of people.
When she speaks, she represents younger voices in a growing chorus of Uvaldeans demanding more gun control and stronger school safety measures in the wake of the tragedy that rocked their town of 15,000. More than two dozen of them will be in D.C. this week.
“I decided to be a voice for my friends who can’t use their voice no more,” said Caitlyne.
Caitlyne has found other ways to remember her friends who died. She posts TikToks of their photos together, ran in a 5K race for 10-year-old victim Lexi Rubio and delivered pancakes (her favorite food) to Jackie Cazares’ grave site on Día de Los Muertos.
Over the past few months, Caitlyne has joined an ever-expanding group of young people spurred to action amid grief following their experience of a school shooting.
Recently, she spent a drizzly Saturday in Uvalde with survivors of the 2021 high school shooting in Oxford, Michigan. She helped set up an activity day for Robb survivors, including herself and many of her classmates. The Oxford students flew in from Michigan to spend time with the kids at the town’s community center.
Caitlyne’s trip this week is being sponsored by March Fourth, a grassroots, mom-led advocacy group formed after the parade shooting in Highland Park. The organization has hosted other Uvalde families in D.C. previously, and has organized many rallies and marches they have participated in. Their objective is to ban assault-style rifles nationwide.
In addition to the silent protest the Uvaldeans led Tuesday evening with the organization, they will attend some 30 meetings with senators that March Fourth says they have arranged. Dozens of other organizations will also be in D.C. this week for the Newtown Action Alliance’s 10th annual gun violence vigil, which Caitlyne also plans to attend.
Caitlyne and other families will be joined by approximately 60 physicians from across 25 states, who are rallying behind the assault weapons ban this week on Capitol Hill. Gun violence is the leading cause of death for kids in the teens in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Medical Association has declared gun violence a “public health crisis.”
March Fourth’s founder, Kitty Brandtner, told ABC News she hopes the physicians’ support, compelled by “non-emotional, evidence-based data,” will nudge senators over the edge to vote to pass the ban.
As for Caitlyne, she wants senators to know that her friend Jackie was “very kind and loving,” and didn’t deserve to lose her life that day. She hopes, with the passage of the ban, she can get back to being a kid.
“I hope in the future I’ll actually feel safer and be able to do normal kid things,” she said.
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