Roland Gutierrez not backed by Senate Democrats on gun issue


In Dan Patrick’s eight-plus years as lieutenant governor, it had never happened. No Texas senator had dared to appeal one of Patrick’s parliamentary rulings. 

The San Antonio Democrat’s sprawling district includes Uvalde, a town traumatized by a mass shooting at Robb Elementary last May that took the lives of 19 children and two teachers. 

The epidemic of school shootings in this country seemingly knows no end. On Monday, the epidemic struck again, with a shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School that killed three children and three adults.  

Gutierrez was a strong believer in gun reform before the Uvalde massacre. Since then, however, he has been consumed by it. All other legislative issues pale for him right now. 

In recent months, Gutierrez has filed a series of gun safety bills and found himself stymied at every turn. So last week he threw a Hail Mary pass.

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Gutierrez introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 58, a bill authored by Laredo Democrat Judith Zaffirini to prevent people from using technology to buy goods online in large quantities, for the purpose of selling them at inflated prices. 

Gutierrez’s amendment also dealt with online purchases. Mindful of the fact that many mass shooters — including the Uvalde assailant — have been able to purchase AR-15-style rifles while still in their teens, he called for a ban on Internet sales of assault weapons to any individual under the age of 21. 

Speaking with the barely suppressed combination of rage, frustration and anguish that has characterized so many of his public pronouncements since the Robb Elementary attack, Gutierrez told his colleagues, “This amendment is not a gotcha on politics. It’s about trying to do the right thing in a space that we need to do the right thing.” 

As if to emphasize the limited, modest nature of his proposal, Gutierrez twice stated that it would only apply to online sales and have no effect on firearm purchases at gun stores or gun shows.    

“We have to be able to say something to the NRA (National Rifle Association) and others out there that we have to regulate the weapons that are killing our youth, by the youth,” Gutierrez said. 

“There’s one rule to being a legislator, and that’s vote your district and represent your district overzealously.” 

Gutierrez had barely finished his speech when Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, one of Patrick’s most sycophantic foot soldiers, responded with a point of order arguing that Gutierrez’s amendment was not germane to Zaffirini’s bill and should be thrown out. 

Patrick sustained Hughes’s point of order.

That’s when Gutierrez made his defiant move. He appealed Patrick’s ruling, an action which triggered a vote of the full Senate to decide the issue. 

This hadn’t been seen on the Senate floor since June 2013, when then-Sen. Kirk Watson appealed then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s decision to shut down Wendy Davis’s filibuster against a bill restricting access to abortion in Texas. 

Even with the full backing of the Democratic caucus, the numbers would have been against Gutierrez. The striking part of the subsequent vote, however, was the near-absence of backing from Senate Democrats, most of whom share Gutierrez’s frustration over the lack of state action on gun safety. 

The Senate upheld Patrick’s ruling by a 29-2 vote, with only Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, siding with Gutierrez. 

The vote reflected the Stockholm Syndrome vibe of the Texas Senate, where Patrick exerts total control. 

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Senate Democrats have become accustomed to begging for crumbs. They’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s not worth showing up the notoriously vengeful Patrick by fighting him on a cause they can’t win. 

It’s what Texas Monthly referred to in its recap of the demoralizing culture-war parade that constituted the 2021 legislative session, when it said Senate Democrats “continued to adopt the position of penitent irrelevance.” 

Gutierrez can be prickly. He doesn’t always adhere to the legislative niceties or express himself in the most diplomatic ways. But it’s to his credit that he rebels against being boxed into the role of “penitent irrelevance.” 

Three days after the Robb Elementary shooting, he interrupted Gov. Greg Abbott’s Uvalde news conference by urging Abbott to call a special session to address guns. 

When Patrick excluded Gutierrez from a special legislative committee tasked with looking at possible responses to the Uvalde shooting, Gutierrez didn’t brood in silence. 

“I do consider it a slap in the face to the people of Uvalde,” he said. 

Fighting Patrick might be a relentless uphill battle. But letting him sap your fighting spirit is worse.

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