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Guns in America: Black and Latino community members speak out on Buffalo, Uvalde mass shootings

(NEW YORK) — The recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, have bound in tragedy and trauma two communities of color – one Black, one Latino. Now, members of those communities are exploring potential paths forward to healing and reform.

In the ABC News Live special “Guns in America: From Buffalo to Uvalde” ABC News contributor María Elena Salinas spoke to those suffering as they work to recover after the shootings that took 31 lives just 10 days apart.

Vincent Salazar’s only granddaughter, Layla Salazar, 11, was killed in the May 24 Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, with 18 of her classmates and two teachers. He and the families and friends of other victims are devastated by the loss of their loved ones.

“The fact that my child, my granddaughter, was killed the way she was killed is one thing. What it did to the community; it didn’t break their hearts, it shattered the hearts of Uvalde.”

Salazar says the community has been looking for answers to how a tragedy like this has happened yet again.

“I want to know how come this hasn’t been fixed since the Columbine shootings?” he asked, referring to the April 20, 1999, shooting and attempted bombing at Columbine High School in Colorado, where seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and one teacher.

According to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database there have been over 900 shooting-related incidents in schools since 1999.

“We need to take some kind of action and have some kind of responsibility and control of what we’re doing,” Salazar, a gun owner who recently started a petition for gun reform that got more than 50,000 signatures in one day, said.

Pastor Dwayne Jones of Mount Aaron Missionary Baptist Church in Buffalo, a former law enforcement officer, echoed Salazar’s sentiments, saying the recent shootings in both Buffalo and Uvalde have weighed heavily on him. Jones knew the victims of the May 14 mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, Tops Friendly Market.

Authorities are calling the massacre that left 10 dead and 3 others injured a racially motivated hate crime. A grand jury indicted shooting suspect and alleged white supremacist Payton Gendron, 18, on 25 charges including 10 counts of first degree murder and one count of domestic terrorism motivated by hate.

“This community in Buffalo, New York, where it was located at the supermarket, was the only supermarket in that geographical area. He purposely picked out this one location to hurt Black and Brown individuals,” Jones said.

Jones said he believes that people should continue to have a right to own weapons, but sees a problem with civilian access to AR-style guns like those used to carry out the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde.

“I believe that the government needs to do more about these weapons of that mass level that’s out there,” he said. “I really feel for what happened in Texas. Those were very innocent, innocent kids. And I don’t think there’s anything we can say that could move the hurt from Texas or Buffalo, but we can do something where this won’t happen again.”

Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Democrat representing the 20th District of Texas 80 miles from Uvalde, spoke to the growing calls for action from government officials.

“Americans are enraged because they keep seeing things like what happened in Uvalde and Buffalo happen over and over and over again,” he told ABC News.

Castro sees widespread support for universal background checks, ‘red flag laws’ and raised age restrictions as a step in the right direction, but says it will take unified commitment to see the change that so many have been waiting for.

Last week, President Biden addressed the nation on gun violence, urging Congress to pass “commonsense measures” on gun control. On Wednesday, the House passed “Protecting Our Kids Act”, a bill that would raise the legal age for purchasing semi-automatic firearms from 18 to 21 and further regulate weapons often referred to as ‘ghost guns’.

“It’s clear that there hasn’t been the kind of legislation that people want to see. I do believe that it’s possible to have change,” he said. “It’s possible for elected officials to actually do something. But they have to have the political and the moral courage to put the lives of Americans above their own political futures.”

ABC News’ Poh Si Teng and Sabina Ghebremedhin contributed to this report.

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