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Robb Elementary School families are are trying to get people to vote

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Some families of those killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, have been making one last push that could shake up tomorrow's elections. Though their preferred candidate for governor of Texas faces an uphill battle, the families are convinced that their activism could help prevent the next mass shooting. Sergio Martinez-Beltran of the Texas Newsroom reports.

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: Until recently, Velma Lisa Duran didn't care about politics.

VELMA LISA DURAN: It does bother me that I was never that vocal and following whoever's running things like that.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: But this election is different for her.

DURAN: There has to be change. There just has to be change.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Among other things, Duran wants current gun laws to change. Her sister, Irma Garcia, was one of the teachers killed by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary School last May. And that's why she now supports Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat running for governor, and told him so at a recent rally in Uvalde.

DURAN: Our kids are in the ballot. I think of my boys that have to go to work. I think of myself as a teacher having to go. And we don't have any protection.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Protection, Duran says, like O'Rourke's proposal to raise the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 - something she thinks will help keep people safe. And she's recruited her colleagues to vote for him. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott, who's the incumbent Republican candidate, argues changing the age would be unconstitutional. He's led O'Rourke in every poll so far, which is one reason why many of the victims' families say they've registered to vote since the shooting and why politics now feels so urgent.

JAZMIN CAZARES: I'm not old enough to vote, but most of you can.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: That's Jazmin Cazares, who lost her 9-year-old sister, Jacklyn. At a march last week at the state capitol to honor the Robb victims, Cazares urged people to cast their ballots.

JAZMIN CAZARES: You can honor the 21 angels and others who have been taken from us too soon by gun violence.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Honoring Jacklyn is what pushed her father, Javier Cazares, to launch a write-in campaign for a seat on the Uvalde County Commissioners Court. He and two other write-in candidates want to oust the incumbent, Mariano Pargas, who was acting chief for the Uvalde police on the day of the school shooting. Cazares says Uvalde has been stagnant for a long time.

JAVIER CAZARES: I just want change, you know. It's going to take baby steps. Nothing else I can do, I mean, that's - take steps.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: But not everyone in Uvalde supports the families that have waded into politics. The families' push for accountability in the wake of the shooting has already shaken the status quo in the town. When it comes to the governor's race, some Republicans - like Jacqueline Schlichting, who owns a ranching business in Uvalde - says Democrats are just using the families.

JACQUELINE SCHLICHTING: What they're being used for is to get it in their heads that this was something that could have been avoided had there been more gun control. That's Beto's whole thing.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Schlichting plans to vote for Republican Governor Abbott, who she says will protect her gun rights. Regardless of who people vote for, the mass shooting at Robb has increased the number of people in Uvalde who say they will vote, like Maricela Sanchez and Crispin Reyna, who are both in their 30s.

MARICELA SANCHEZ: Now we got to see who really cares about the community and who doesn't.

CRISPIN REYNA: And expect a lot of voting this year from Uvalde.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Like many in town, Sanchez and Reyna says (ph) the mass shooting and its aftermath have made them realize if they want change, they have to vote. For NPR News, I'm Sergio Martinez-Beltran in Uvalde. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran