AUSTIN — Democratic state Sen. Roland Gutierrez on Tuesday announced he filed one bill to compensate victims of school violence by taxing bullet sales and another to end cops’ qualified immunity in response to the state’s worst mass school shooting in Uvalde.
Backed by families wearing shirts and pins with photos of the loved ones they lost in the massacre, Gutierrez vowed to hold weekly press conferences to pressure the GOP-led Legislature into action.
“This has to be the session we do something,” said Gutierrez, a San Antonio senator whose district includes Uvalde. “We’re not asking for the moon and stars. We’re asking for common sense solutions.”
In a public appeal inside the Texas Capitol, the families called for immediate action, including on raising the purchase age to buy a firearm.
“Make no mistake, the laws that this state currently has in place enabled this child to commit his horrific act,” said Marissa Lozano, whose sister, fourth-grade teacher Irma Garcia, was killed in the attack. “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.”
The push comes as the five-month legislative session gets underway with GOP leaders showing little appetite for gun control measures, and instead eyeing enhancements of school safety and student access to mental health.
At last week’s inauguration, Gov. Greg Abbott made no explicit mention of the shooting at Robb Elementary last May that killed 19 children and two teachers. But the three-term Republican governor said lawmakers would not end the session without “making our schools safer.”
His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gutierrez’s proposals. Neither did spokespeople for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.
In recent years, the GOP-dominated Legislature has steadily loosened gun laws in the face of mass shootings.
On Tuesday, Gutierrez filed two resolutions and two bills, including one that he said would impose a five-cent tax on every bullet sold in Texas to help finance a school violence victims’ compensation fund.
The fund would pay surviving families $1 million if a child is killed by gun violence at a school and $250,000 to families with a child who is seriously injured, according to a fact sheet provided by his office.
The other proposals aim to give families more power to launch litigation over the Uvalde mass shooting, to which nearly 400 law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies responded. The officers waited more than an hour to confront the 18-year-old gunman.
One of Gutierrez’s bills would end qualified immunity protections for police officers by “allowing individuals harmed by the officers actions, or failure to act, to hold those officers liable for damages,” the fact sheet said.
The resolutions would offer victims’ families permission to sue the state of Texas over the botched law enforcement response and would urge Congress to strip gun manufacturers of legal protections that make it difficult to sue them. The full text of the proposals was not immediately available on the state’s bill filing website.
Gutierrez said he would be rolling out more legislation in the coming weeks, and inviting others to speak out at the Capitol, including survivors of the 2018 mass shooting at Santa Fe High School. He’s already filed legislation to raise the purchase age for long guns from 18 to 21, though the idea has faced resistance from Phelan and Abbott, who has questioned the constitutionality.
At the press conference on Tuesday, a handful of Democrats appeared were in attendance, but no Republicans.
In emotional speeches, family members recounted how their lives have been changed forever by the Uvalde shooting. They pleaded for lawmakers to take action so their loved ones’ deaths would not be in vain. In addition to raising the firearm purchase age, speakers pushed for police accountability, expanded gun-purchasing background checks and a ban on AR-style weapons.
Felicha Martinez, whose son Xavier Lopez was killed in the massacre, described the family’s first Christmas without the 10-year-old. As her children opened gifts, she and her husband were locked in their room crying. Xavier was the wild one, she said, who made sure everyone had a good holiday.
Instead of laughing around a table together, the family spent time at a gravesite.
“If such a powerful gun can be sold to be used to harm or kill someone, they should also be held accountable,” she said. “These laws need to be changed, and they need to be changed today. Not tomorrow.”