Opinion: The wheels turn slowly in Congress

Miguel Cerrillo, father of Miah Cerrillo a fourth grade student at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, wipes a tear from his face as he testifies during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

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Miguel Cerrillo, father of Miah Cerrillo a fourth grade student at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, wipes a tear from his face as he testifies during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

This week brought gut-wrenching testimony on Capitol Hill about a Texas elementary school massacre, where a gunman last month killed 19 kids and two teachers.

Instead of high school students or teachers telling horrific stories of life and death, this time it was a fourth-grader relating how she survived the shooter’s deadly rampage.

“He shot my friend that was next to me,” 10-year-old Miah Cerrillo calmly recounted. “I thought he was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed blood (from her mortally injured classmate) and I put it all over me.”

Everyone reading this column has different ideas on how to prevent mass shootings. Some want gun restrictions. Others want to arm teachers and guards at school. Both of those approaches have strong opponents.

“We can’t allow more lives to be lost,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia. “We need action.”

But while Johnson and Democrats press for new gun laws, that’s a non-starter for almost all Republicans.

“The issue is not gun violence,” said U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro. “We have a people violence problem.”

“Criminals simply do not obey the law,” added U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens.

That leaves Congress at a familiar impasse, as almost nothing has been done over the past decade.

Whether it was the words of Miah Cerrillo or an Uvalde pediatrician who testified, there was no sense this Congressional hearing had changed anyone’s mind about guns.

But it left a mark on those who witnessed the carnage.

“I will never forget what I saw that day,” Dr. Roy Guerrero told lawmakers.

“Two children, whose bodies had been so pulverized by the bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been so ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities were the blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them,” Guerrero said.

In many ways, the inaction of Congress on gun violence is much like the inaction of Congress when it came to attacks in the South on Black people as they tried to vote after the Civil War.

The violent episodes became almost routine in the latter part of the 19th century, referred to on Capitol Hill as ‘election outrages.’

Blood would be spilled on or around Election Day. Black people would be killed. Lawmakers would demand an investigation. Congress would hold hearings, take testimony, and issue reports.

But little would change on Civil Rights until the 1960′s.

Fast forward to 2022, and Congress does not yet seem to be at a breaking point with regard to gun violence.

“I wish something would change,” Miah’s father, Miguel Cerrillo told lawmakers, as he fought back tears. “Something really needs to change.”

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com