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State Sen. Gutierrez introduces gun legislation on eight-month anniversary of Uvalde shooting

The Texas senator wants to make it easier to sue law enforcement officers after last year's botched police response culminated in 21 lives lost.

AUSTIN, Texas — State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, introduced gun legislation Tuesday, exactly eight months after the mass shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers.

The Texas legislative session officially kicked off earlier this month. The state's legislative body only meet every two years in the odd-numbered years.

Flanked by Uvalde community members and relatives of last May's mass shooting at Robb Elementary, Sen. Gutierrez announced four bills related to gun violence and victim's access to justice. He said in a news release that in the months that followed the Uvalde massacre, victims' families had trouble accessing services, resources and financial relief. He also said families were kept in the dark about the investigation into the shooting and law enforcement's  delayed response.

“We’re not asking for the moon and the stars. We’re asking for commonsense solutions,” Gutierrez said.

Sen. Gutierrez spoke Tuesday from the Texas Senate press room along with family members of Uvalde victims. He said the bills aim to deal with lowering the age to purchase an assault-style weapon, universal background checks and extreme risk protective orders, among other issues. 

Credit: AP
Family of those killed by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, stand with Texas State Sen. Roland Gutierrez during a news conference at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Gutierrez says he is filing legislation in the wake of Texas' rising gun violence. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Gutierrez filed Senate Bill 575 to end qualified immunity for police officers, a judicial doctrine that shields government officials from liability for constitutional violations. The doctrine has been spotlighted nationally in recent years because it is routinely used to protect law enforcement officers from being sued in cases of excessive force. 

He said ending qualified immunity will make it easier for the families of the Uvalde shooting victims to seek damages after the flawed law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting, in which hundreds of officers descended on the school but did not confront the gunman for over an hour.

“I support law enforcement 100%, but under no circumstances should they have [allowed] what happened on that day,” Gutierrez said. “They 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 no amount of money that’s going to bring back their children. But there should be justice, so today’s about justice.”

Earlier this month, Sen. Gutierrez said one of his priorities was introducing a bill to raise the age to buy assault-style weapons.

He said at the time that he had spoken to some Republican colleagues and there was interest in the issue.

However, State Rep. Craig Goldman, a Fort Worth Republican, told Inside Texas Politics any gun reform would be difficult to get through.

“I just don’t know if we have the votes for it to be frank and honest with you,” Goldman told us.

The Texas Rangers’ criminal investigation into the Uvalde school shooting is still ongoing. Christina Mitchell, Uvalde’s district attorney, said earlier in January that she doesn’t expect to receive the final report for a few more months. 

Black lawmakers in the Texas Legislature previously attempted to end qualified immunity law in 2021 as part of a sweeping reform proposal following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The effort failed.

In addition, Gutierrez and other Democrats seek to establish a compensation fund for victims of violence on school grounds, going beyond school shootings, via Senate Bill 574. The money, they said, would come from a new tax on retail sales of firearms and ammunition in Texas.

family members of the victims present during the Tuesday press conference once again stressed the need for more gun control in the state.

“The age limit should be raised to 21 because having families torn apart is unbelievable,” said Felicha Martinez, the mother of Xavier Lopez, a student who died in the shooting.

“Holidays are supposed to be filled with love and joy and happiness. Instead, I was filled with emptiness. This was our first Christmas that my husband and I did not sit with our children to open gifts. Instead we’re locked in our room, crying, full of hurt and anger because the one person that was the loudest during Christmas was no longer here.”

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