Sen. Gutierrez demands accountability after Uvalde


Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, whose district includes Uvalde, has unveiled four bills he’s filing to reduce gun violence, increase support for school shooting victims and survivors, and push for accountability for the flawed law enforcement response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in May.  

Several families of the Uvalde school shooting victims joined Gutierrez for his announcement Tuesday, eight months to the day since the horrific mass shooting left 19 children and two teachers dead. In emotional testimony, they demanded lawmakers act to pass measures to reduce gun violence. 

“When will it be enough bloodshed? Are you waiting for it to happen to you or your family, before you stop to think about your gross negligence?” said Velma Lisa Duran, the older sister of Irma Garcia, one of the two teachers killed in Uvalde on May 24.

More:Six mass shootings and 90 dead. What has Gov. Abbott done and has it been enough?

“I urge you to take the time to visualize our loved ones pieced back together in a coffin knowing that their last breath on earth was the most frightening event in their lives,” she said. “The hopelessness and bravery that these children had to endure, similar to that of a soldier at war, but without any protective gear or high-caliber weapon. How do you sit in your high-powered offices and not want to do anything to put an end to this violence? … Americans are killing Americans, and our government leaders are the enablers.” 

Uvalde victims’ families said they plan to return to the Capitol weekly to join Gutierrez in releasing additional gun safety bills this legislative session, and to push lawmakers to support those measures. Several Democratic lawmakers, including state Sens. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, as well as state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, joined Gutierrez and the Uvalde families for the announcement Tuesday. 

“It has to be the session where we do something on gun safety,” Gutierrez said. “We’re not asking for the moon and the stars; we’re asking for commonsense solutions. These families are broken. They’re mad as hell, they’re angry, and there’s not one damn thing that anybody’s going to be able to do that is going to bring their children back, but under no certain terms should we allow their children’s deaths to be in vain.” 

What do the proposals say?

Of the four measures Gutierrez announced Tuesday, one bill would create a school violence victims’ compensation fund for any child or adult who is killed or injured by gun violence on a public school campus. The program would be funded by creating a new tax on firearms and ammunition in Texas, charging 50 cents per bullet sold and $50 per firearm. 

Under Gutierrez’s proposal, the families of those killed in a school shooting would be eligible to receive $1 million each, anyone “seriously physically injured” would be eligible to receive $250,000, those experiencing mental or emotional injuries would be eligible to receive $100,000, and those physically injured would be eligible to receive $50,000. 

Another bill Gutierrez said he plans to file would eliminate qualified immunity protections for police officers, and it would allow “individuals harmed by the officers’ actions, or failure to act, to hold those officers liable for damages and/or the violation of their rights,” according to a new release from Gutierrez. 

“You can sue a lawyer, you can sue a doctor, but you can’t sue cops when they’re negligent. It’s astounding to me,” Gutierrez said. “What happened on that day (at Robb Elementary), this state agency, the Department of Public Safety that failed these children for 77 minutes for a lack of leadership, under no circumstances should they be allowed to walk away and not compensate people. There’s not an amount of money that’s going to bring back their children, not one bit, but there should be justice.”

Gutierrez on Tuesday also filed two resolutions, the first of which would allow the Uvalde victims’ families to sue the state and its ancillary agencies for their negligence during the mass shooting response. Hundreds of state and local law enforcement officials waited more than 77 minutes to confront and kill the shooter, despite desperate 911 calls from terrified children trapped in the two classrooms the gunman targeted. 

The second resolution Gutierrez filed would demand that Congress repeal the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits when crimes are committed with their products. Gutierrez particularly criticized Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the gun used in the Uvalde shooting, slamming the company’s “irresponsible marketing and dangerous advertising” geared toward young men, according to the resolution. 

“You can sue big tobacco, you can sue big beer, but you can’t sue big guns?” Gutierrez said. “We need to allow that.” 

While the four measures revealed Tuesday centered on justice, Gutierrez said other legislation he plans to file in the coming weeks focuses on appropriations, emergency management and preparedness, and gun safety solutions. 

He already filed bills this session to create extreme risk protective orders, raise the minimum age to purchase military-style semi-automatic rifles, and create a separate Uvalde Victims’ Compensation Fund.

Uvalde victims’ families call for more gun restrictions

Raising the minimum age to purchase military-style rifles is one of the top priorities the Uvalde victims’ families have been calling for since the massacre, and they have made multiple trips to Austin and Washington to plead with lawmakers to pass a ban on assault-style weapons. 

The Uvalde gunman, who perpetrated the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, purchased his firearms legally just days after his 18th birthday. 

In tears, Uvalde victim Irma Garcia’s younger sister, Marissa Lozano, described seeing her sister’s body in her casket, emphasizing why she wants lawmakers to enact increased restrictions on access to military-style semi-automatic rifles. 

Color del dolor:21 Uvalde murals of Robb Elementary victims use paint to heal pain

“Viewing my beautiful sister in her casket was heartbreaking. The face that was always laughing and smiling was now something I didn’t recognize,” Lozano said in between tears. “The reconstruction done on her face was a valiant effort, but that wasn’t my sister’s face. We couldn’t even touch her hair, for fear that the prosthetics would fall apart.

“Though they covered her hands with a piece of fabric, I can still see the bullet wounds in the back of her hands. Her bullet-riddled body laying in front of me in her casket and my brother-in-law, just a few feet away in his casket, is a vision that is seared on my mind.”

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Irma Garcia’s husband died days after his wife’s killing. His family says he died of a broken heart.

“I look at my sister’s orphaned children and wonder … what if (the gunman) was never able to purchase these types of weapons at all? You say raising the age limit would not prevent these atrocities from happening because criminals don’t follow the law. Well, this shooter did,” Lozano said. “I wonder if it had been 21 abortions that were being performed in those classrooms if our elected officials would step in and do the right thing.”

Bills face an uphill battle

The bills Lozano and other shooting victims’ families want to see passed, including universal background checks and red flag laws, face uphill battles in the GOP-dominated legislature. 

Republicans, who have in recent legislative sessions loosened gun restrictions, have often shifted the focus from gun access to mental health resources and school hardening. And the state’s top leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have said they believe raising the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles is unconstitutional, though the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue. 

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan last week told reporters that while he is willing to let a debate on the issue play out on the House floor, he doubts it has the votes to pass. The measure has an even higher threshold to pass in the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has not proven to be open to increased gun control restrictions. Abbott, Phelan and Patrick have all said that school security and safety are among their priorities this legislative session. 

More:Texas lawmakers signed NDAs to quietly obtain Uvalde shooting case file. What do they know?

But while the Uvalde families hope lawmakers take action to funnel more resources into the state’s mental health infrastructure and public education system to increase school security, the families said Tuesday enacting more restrictions on access to military-style firearms is a critical to reducing gun violence. 

“Please don’t look away, and do something,” said Duran, Irma Garcia’s older sister. “You need to ban all assault weapons. Aren’t human lives more valuable than the money you pocket to support the NRA?”

Felicha Martinez, the mother of shooting victim Xavier Lopez, spoke in heartbreaking detail about how painful it was for their family to spend the holidays without Xavier. 

“This was our first Christmas that my husband and I did not sit with our children to open gifts,” Martinez said, in tears. “Instead, we were locked in our room, crying, full of hurt and anger, because the one person that was the loudest during Christmas was no longer here. Our Xavier was the wild one that made sure everyone had a good holiday. … Instead, we were all around a gravesite, telling Xavier how much we miss him and how much we wish he was here with us.”

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