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‘This is about our human values’: State Sen. Roland Gutierrez talks bills related to Uvalde shooting

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, seen at a 2022 press conference, said new sets of legislation related to the Uvalde shooting will be filed weekly.
Bri Kirkham
Texas Public Radio
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, seen at a 2022 press conference, said new sets of legislation related to the Uvalde shooting will be filed weekly.

Eight months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that left 21 people dead, what happens next may largely be in the hands of state lawmakers.

With victims’ families at his side on Tuesday, Roland Gutierrez, a Democratic state senator who represents Uvalde, announced four bills focused on gun safety and law enforcement accountability.

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

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: You represent Uvalde, so I know this is very personal for you. Before we get to the nuts and bolts of the proposals and the politics, how are folks in Uvalde eight months later?

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez: Well, I mean, the town is just not the same, obviously. And obviously, for these families, I mean, they’re broken, and they’re never going to be the same. The only thing that they have to look forward to is just a duller sense of pain. They lost their little babies. And, you know, there’s not an amount of money, there’s not anything that’s going to bring back their children.

And so they were there yesterday for themselves because this advocacy helps alleviate some of that pain. They don’t want any parent in Texas to have to go through what they have gone through. And what they’ve gone through is horror and terror and DNA matches to match your child to see if that was your dead child. I mean, just horrendous, horrible, horrible stuff.

Senator, there are four distinct pieces of legislation, as I understand it, related to what happened in Uvalde and preventing another such incident. Can we do a quick rundown of each one of those? 

Yeah. And indeed, we’ve already filed three pieces of legislation before. Yesterday, we filed four pieces. We’ll be filing different sets of legislation every week as we get over to our deadline to hear cases in committee. Yesterday was more directed towards justice and access to justice.

  • A “sue the state” bill: Giving these people the authority, the ability to be able to sue the state. Eliminating protections that would be in place in certain instances against suing municipalities. The reason that’s important is because of the extreme negligence that occurred on that day, by the way of law enforcement. Four or five kids could well be here today had law enforcement done their job in a right way.
  • Asking the federal government to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act: Imagine this: You can sue big tobacco because they market to youth, but you can’t sue big guns. You can sue big beer, but you can’t sue big gun companies. The fact is that Daniels Defense in particular has done ads with teenagers; it’s done ads depicting “Star Wars” characters. They take particular pride in that their gun is the gun that is used in the video game “Call of Duty.” So these companies and others like them are marketing to kids. And unfortunately, some of these estranged kids are buying these weapons and utilizing them for this mayhem. We have to do better in this space. We have to do what’s right. We have to at least allow people to have access to the courthouse. And so that’s what that resolution does.
  • Ending 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 cop. When we have extreme negligence like what we saw that day, you should be able to avail yourself of justice at the courthouse. And as I stated at the beginning, no amount of money is going to bring back these children. But we have to be able to give families the relief that they need so that they don’t have to make the hard decisions for their families; they don’t have to go to work yet. They are in extreme pain. And getting over it is just simply not possible. And it shouldn’t be. And so that, in a nutshell, is the nature of the legislation.
  • A compensation fund for victims: If you lose a child in our Texas schools – if you send your child off to school and they never come back – then we should compensate you because that child has been in our care. And so if that child dies, it will be $1 million. If that child gets injured, it’s $250,000. It’s the right thing to do. We should do it.

I want to get to SB 145, which would impose an age limit to buy a firearm. Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Republicans have said age limits are unconstitutional. Do you think you can get Republicans on board? You’ll need them if you’re going to pass this. 

Well, let’s be clear: Gov. Abbott is lying. He’s just straight-up lying to the Texas public. NRA 1 and NRA 2 – one is a United States Supreme Court decision, one is a Fifth Circuit decision – both of those cases argue that age limits are appropriate. 18 states have age limits. We have an age limit on handguns. You know, if someone went up to a northern district and got an opinion from a district court judge and the attorney general – who is supposed to stand up for the laws of the state of Texas – refused to continue with that appeal to the Fifth Circuit, knowing that what the Fifth Circuit would do, because they’ve already done it in NRA 2.

And so here we are in a situation where Republicans want to forum shop. Republicans want to pick which courts they get to go to and then argue some lame argument that it’s unconstitutional. It is completely false, and the Supreme Court has held that these things are false. The other cases that the governor cites are factually distinguishable. They are about municipalities creating ordinances. States can regulate guns insofar as they affect their people and set up age limits. And that has been proven time and time again. So we need to do the right thing here.

I guess one of the things that I’m pressing you on is, you know, you’re accusing the governor of lying about the law when it comes to age limits. You’ve got to win support for these measures – that’s your priority, I would assume. How do you get Republicans to support these measures? I mean, they were re-elected in November, and they believe their constituents aren’t on board with this. 

Seventy-six percent of Republicans have been polled, both by UT and the University of Houston, 76% of Republican voters want an age limit increase on AR-15 access. It is absolutely not unconstitutional to have an age limit. Insofar as getting it out there, we’ll be talking to their own constituents, and these families are going to begin a campaign in those swing districts to convince those Republicans that this is the right thing they do. And if they don’t do it, well, that’s on them. And they’ll have to answer to their voters come next fall.

Let me ask you about the bill that would end qualified immunity for police officers. This isn’t the first time Texas lawmakers have tried to end qualified immunity. Do you think that things have changed that much since Uvalde that lawmakers are going to get on board this time? 

Well, listen, we have to have this discussion. The fact is, I respect law enforcement immensely. But when we have the kinds of failures that we have all seen on May 24th – and you’ve seen them, and the whole world has seen them. They left those little children in there for 77 minutes to die. These families should have access to the courthouse in some way. And if that means we either pass a “sue the state” resolution for this one limited instance, or we eliminate qualified immunity, this is on us, and we have to make those decisions.

This is about our human values, not about our partisan politics. And everything that I’m talking about has been, quite frankly, nonpartisan solutions 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’re going to have another set of bills, culminating in gun safety legislation in the next few weeks.

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Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.