Jun 9, 2022 - Podcasts

Gut-wrenching gun violence testimony in Washington

Yesterday, the House of Representatives held hearings on gun violence which included some wrenching testimony from those involved in recent mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo. How those voices could affect the gun debate.

  • Plus, teachers are being pushed to the brink.

Guests: Abby Livingston, D.C. bureau chief for the Texas Tribune, and Axios' Erica Pandey.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning. Welcome to Axios Today.

It’s Thursday, June 9th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: teachers are being pushed to the brink.

First, our One Big Thing: graphic, and gut-wrenching gun violence testimony in Washington – and whether it could lead to change.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives held hearings on gun violence which included some wrenching testimony from those involved in recent mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo:

11 year old Miah Cerrillo described how she survived the Uvalde shooting by playing dead.

MIAH CERRILLO: He shot my friend that was next to me and I thought he was going to come back to the room. So I got a little blood and I put it all over me.

NIALA: And Kimberly Rubio, the mother of one of the victims at Robb Elementary School, shared her final encounter with her daughter:

KIMBERLY RUBIO: We promised to get her ice cream that evening. I told her we loved her and we would pick her up after school. I could still see her walking with us toward the exit. In the reel that keeps scrolling across my memories, she turns her head and smiles back at us to acknowledge my promise. And then we left. I left my daughter at that school and that decision will haunt me for the rest of my life.

NIALA: There were pleas to Congress to pass laws that would prevent future mass shootings. Zeneta Everhart’s son Zaire, was injured in the shooting in Buffalo, NY.

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's wounds so that you may see up close the damage that has been caused to my son and to my community.

NIALA: Abby Livingston is the DC bureau chief for the Texas Tribune. Hi Abby.


NIALA: Abby, what struck you about yesterday's hearing?

ABBY: I would say it was the language used. And by that, I mean, if you, if you look at Ms. Rubio. She is a journalist. She worked in the newsroom and that's how she first heard about this through the police scanner. And so I think she demonstrates what all the witnesses did, was there was so much detail, so many descriptive words to just express how graphic, how miserable, how disastrous this event, these two events were.

NIALA: Is it fair to say that we heard the same responses we've heard in the past from both parties?

ABBY: I think it's mostly fair. Republicans very much went back to their usual points about gun regulation, which is that schools need to be secured. And that's that sort of line of thinking. It was not with the theme of the majority's message, which was looking at this as an epidemic and what the culpability of the gun manufacturers is in this context.

NIALA: To that end House Democrats also voted yesterday on a series of gun laws. They say this vote was necessary, even though it's not likely to create a change in gun laws. Can you explain that, Abby?

ABBY: Well, yes, that's correct. Because of the Senate but I think the House had to do this just because of how much emotion there is behind this. How much many, many liberal members want to do something, even if it is just a vote. At the same time I spent most of the day or, uh, this week on the Senate side. And it's a very different story.

NIALA: Can you tell us what is the latest with this small group of bipartisan senators? Is that where the only possibility for a change in laws lie?

ABBY: I think most likely, and I think Democrats are eager to accept any sort of change Republicans put forward when it comes to regulating guns, but these are not sweeping changes. It will most likely fall along mental health and what are known as red flag laws, which keeps guns out of the hands of people who could be a threat to themselves or others. It's very tenuous, but there's a lot of optimism that in the Senate.

NIALA: Do we have a sense of the timing of when that might be?

ABBY: I think the timing is swift, but swift is a relative term when you talk about the United States Senate. I think it will be before the 4th of July recess if there is a vote. That doesn't mean there will be, or that negotiations are certain, but if it does happen, there's no interest in putting this on a big standalone bill in six months. They want to move now while there's momentum.

NIALA: Abby Livingston is the DC bureau chief for the Texas Tribune. Thanks Abby.

ABBY: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment, we’re back with how this moment is testing teachers.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

The massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas – and other recent mass shootings – come as teachers in America are already overwhelmed and exhausted. And many are now looking for an exit.

Axios’ Erica Pandey is with us for more. Hi, Erica.


NIALA: Being a teacher has always been underpaid, difficult work in this country, but what exactly makes this such a uniquely hard moment?

ERICA: So in the last two years, these pressures have just been building, right? I mean, the pandemic is a huge one. We asked teachers to completely switch what they knew and, and turn to virtual learning and that was really hard for a lot of teachers. A lot of futures skew older, and they had to come in to class when schools opened again and risk their lives for their jobs. And then we're dealing with a kid mental health crisis right now. And a lot of those kids are turning to their teachers for help. Add to that politics seeping into classrooms and now, you know, we're living in a country where mass shootings in schools happen. It's really straining teachers and either driving them out of the profession or making them reconsider whether they want to be there.

NIALA: Do we know how much this profession is shrinking as people leave?

ERICA: Yeah, the numbers are really scary, Niala. So in the 1970s, the U.S. graduated around 200,000 new teachers a year. That's fallen to below 90,000. And on top of that, a recent National Education Association survey found that 55% of teachers at all different stages of their careers are considering leaving the profession even before their retirement benefits kick in. So it's just got, they've gone to a point where nothing is making this profession seem worth it anymore.

NIALA: And what kind of solutions are there to helping resolve the labor part of this?

ERICA: Superintendents tell us that something that really concerns them is that they've got open roles and the quality of people applying is not great, or they're getting no applications at all. So something some districts are trying, uh, you know, there are districts up in Michigan that are trying, this is up-skilling janitors and bus drivers to become teachers because you know that these people love kids, love working with kids. Let's see if we can, you know, pay for them to go back to school so they can come and work in schools.

Again, something broke somewhere along the way where the best and the brightest in this country no longer want to educate the next generation. And that's a big federal problem to solve as to how do we create incentives or how do we forgive loans or, or what do we do to make people want to teach again?

NIALA: We've been hearing from listeners who are teachers. Here's what one told us.

DYLAN: This is Dylan from Portland, Oregon. I'm a high school math teacher. I believe that teachers, in addition to higher pay, smaller class sizes, more resources and support at all levels from the classroom to the hallways, to the school-wide community, they also need someone to process the trauma and how they're doing in the work each and every day. This would go so, so far to help with the enormous burnout rate that they face, especially in years like this year, teachers are dropping like flies left and right. They need this now.

NIALA: Erica, are you hearing this from teachers? What about mental health resources to help with trauma?

ERICA: A lot of districts have provided teachers with the mental health resources to help their kids, but not a lot have given those resources to teachers themselves. And when we talk to superintendents and teachers, they all say we need this, but no one really has a plan of how to get it, how to pay for it and how to implement it.

NIALA: On the other hand, superintendents are sharing with you the small ways they're trying to show teachers how appreciated they are?

ERICA: Right, I mean, a lot of this comes down to money, right? Raising wages, providing resources. We can't do that overnight. So superintendents are telling us what is something we can do today? And that is, let's postpone this professional development seminar that we don't need to do right now so teachers don't have to give up their weekends. Let's try to recruit volunteers from the community to become substitutes And then just a simple thank you. So many teachers that we spoke to said they rarely hear just a simple message of thanks from parents or community members or kids and we just have to remember that that's so important and that can go so far.

NIALA: I come from a whole family of teachers. So this is a good time to remind everybody to thank a teacher in their life today. Axios’ Erica Pandey. Thanks Erica.

ERICA: Thanks, Niala

NIALA: That’s all for today. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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