Texas

‘It’s about our human values’: State Senator Roland Gutierrez discusses bills related to Uvalda shooting

Eight months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalda that left 21 people dead, what happens next may largely depend on state legislators.

Along with the families of the victims, on Tuesday, Roland Gutierrez, the Democratic state senator representing Uvalde, announced four bills aimed at gun safety and law enforcement accountability.

Gutierrez joined the Texas Standard to explain the proposed law and discuss age limits for the purchase of firearms. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: You represent Uvalde, so I know this is very personal to you. Before we get to the heart of the proposals and policies, how are the people in Uvalde eight months later?

State Senator Roland Gutierrez: Well, I mean, the city is just not the same, obviously. And obviously for these families, I mean, they’re broken and they’ll never be the same again. The only thing they should look forward to is simply a more blunted sense of pain. They lost their little children. And, you know, there is no amount of money or anything that can bring their children back.

And that’s why they were there yesterday for themselves, because that protection helps ease some of that pain. They don’t want any parent in Texas to go through the same thing as them. And what they went through is horror and horror and DNA matches to match your child to see if it was your dead child. I mean, just terrible, terrible, terrible things.

Senator, I understand there are four different pieces of legislation related to what happened in Uvalda to prevent another similar incident. Can we make a brief overview of each of them?

Yeah. Indeed, we have already submitted three bills. Yesterday we filed four pieces. We will be filing a different set of laws each week as we get closer to the committee deadline. Yesterday was more focused on justice and access to justice.

– The bill “to sue the state”: Giving these people powers, the opportunity to be able to sue the state. Elimination of remedies that could be applied in some cases against the filing of claims by municipalities. The reason this is important is because of the extreme negligence on the part of law enforcement that day. Four or five children could very well be here today if law enforcement did their job properly.

– Requesting the federal government to repeal the Lawful Arms Trade Protection Act: Imagine: you can sue the big tobacco companies because they target young people, but you can’t sue the big companies. You can sue big beer, but you can’t sue big gun companies. The fact is that Daniels Defense, in particular, did advertising for teenagers; This is an ad featuring Star Wars characters. They are especially proud that their weapon is the one used in the Call of Duty video game. So these companies and others like them are marketing to kids. And unfortunately, some of these estranged kids are buying these weapons and using them for this chaos. We must achieve more in this space. We must do what is right. We should at least allow people to have access to the courthouse. That’s what this resolution does.

– Abolition of qualified immunity for police officers: You can sue a doctor, you can sue a lawyer, you can sue a priest, you can sue a teacher, but you cannot sue a police officer. When we show extreme negligence, like what we saw that day, you should be able to take advantage of justice in the courthouse. And, as I said at the beginning, no amount of money will bring these children back. But we must be able to give families the relief they need so they don’t have to make difficult decisions for their families; they don’t have to go to work yet. They are in great pain. And it is simply impossible to overcome it. And it shouldn’t be. And so, in a nutshell, is the nature of legislation.

– Compensation fund for victims: If you lose a child in our schools in Texas—if you send your child to school and he never comes back—then we must compensate you because that child was in our care. And so if this child dies, it will be $1 million. If this child gets injured, that’s $250,000. This is right. We must do it.

I want to go to SB 145, where there will be an age requirement for the purchase of firearms. Gov. Greg Abbott and other senior Republicans have said the age limit is unconstitutional. Do you think you can bring Republicans on board? You’ll need them if you’re going through this.

Well, let’s be clear: Governor Abbott is lying. He’s just outright lying to the Texas public. NRA 1 and NRA 2 are one U.S. Supreme Court decision and the other is a Fifth Circuit Court decision – both of these cases argue that age limits are appropriate. 18 states have age limits. We have age restrictions on weapons. You know, if someone went to the northern circuit and got a county court judge’s opinion, and the attorney general, who’s supposed to uphold the laws of the state of Texas, refused to keep going to appeal to the Fifth Circuit, knowing what the Fifth Circuit would do, because they already did. it’s in NRA 2.

So we’re in a situation where the Republicans want to buy the forum. Republicans want to choose which courts they go to and then make some lame argument that it’s unconstitutional. This is completely false, and the Supreme Court ruled that it is false. The rest of the cases referred to by the governor are actually distinguishable. They concern municipalities that create ordinances. States may regulate the use of weapons to the extent that they affect their populations and set age limits. And it has been proven time and time again. So this is where you need to do the right thing.

I think one of the things I’m pushing you is that you’re accusing the governor of lying about the law when it comes to age limits. You need to get support for these measures – I think that’s your priority. How to convince Republicans to support these measures? I mean they were re-elected in November and they think their voters don’t agree with that.

Seventy-six percent of Republicans polled by both UT and the University of Houston, 76% of Republican voters want an increase in the age limit for accessing the AR-15. The age limit is absolutely not contrary to the Constitution. In terms of spreading the word, we will be talking to their own constituents, and these families are going to start campaigning in these swing districts to convince these Republicans that they are doing the right thing. And if they don’t, well, it’s on them. And they will have to answer to their constituents next fall.

Let me ask you about a bill that would end qualified immunity for police officers. This isn’t the first time Texas lawmakers have tried to lift qualified immunity. Do you think things have changed so much since Uvalde that this time the legislators will take over?

Well, listen, we need to discuss this. The thing is, I have a lot of respect for law enforcement. But when we have such failures that we all saw on May 24 – and you saw them, and the whole world saw them. They left these little children there to die for 77 minutes. These families must somehow have access to the courthouse. And if that means we either pass a resolution to “sue the state” in this one limited case, or lift qualified immunity, it’s up to us to make those decisions.

This is about our human values, not about our party politics. And everything I’m talking about has been, quite frankly, an unbiased solution to a very big problem that we’re facing. And so we have to do something, and that’s what I’m trying to say. And next week we will have another package of bills, culminating in the passing of a gun safety law in the next few weeks.

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