As more people have died in mass shootings in recent days, the parents and families of children killed in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, eight months ago pleaded Tuesday for state legislators to pass “commonsense gun laws” so children “can stop living in the United States of the NRA.”
The parents gathered at the Texas Capitol in Austin for a news conference in which state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, announced bills he has filed and other plans for this year’s legislative session, which began this month and ends May 29.
They were joined by the parent of a student who died in the 2018 shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.
“Take clear notice of these commonsense gun laws our children and future need to live in the United States of America and stop living in the United States of the NRA,” said Velma Lisa Duran of San Antonio, referring to the National Rifle Association, the most powerful gun lobbying group in the country.
Irma Garcia, Duran’s sister, was one of the two teachers and 19 students killed in the May 4 shooting at Robb elementary School in Uvalde. Garcia’s husband, Joe Garcia, died two days later of a heart attack.
The Uvalde massacre was the deadliest school shooting in Texas history and one of the deadliest in the country. The law enforcement response has led to investigations and outrage, because officers waited more than an hour to enter the building to stop the shooter.
Families and lawmakers called for action come after weekend shootings in California left 18 people dead, a shooting in Iowa left two people dead, and a mass shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, injured 12. As of Tuesday, 39 mass shootings had occurred this year, NBC News reported.
The sorrow of the losses for the Uvalde families was visible in tears, sniffles and anger, as some of the family members made statements at the news conference in Austin, which was livestreamed. Parents held photos of their children and wore T-shirts and buttons with their names and images.
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, filed two bills and two resolutions. One resolution calls on Congress to repeal protections for gun manufacturers from lawsuits, and another would allow families to sue the state or its ancillary agencies for failing to stop the shooter.
In one of the bills, Gutierrez proposes a violence and compensation fund for families of victims and victims of school violence that would be funded by taxes of 5 cents per round of ammunition and $50 per firearm.
The fund would pay $1 million per person killed, $250,000 per person seriously injured, $100,000 for those with mental health injuries and $50,000 for those with less serious physical injuries. Gutierrez said the federal excise tax on weapons bought in Texas every year is about $97 million. "I think we can have a piece of that action," he said.
The second bill would end the qualified immunity that protects police officers in the performance of their duties and has complicated the Uvalde families’ attempts to hold officers accountable in the deaths of their loved ones.
Gutierrez said he is filing the legislation individually, rather than as part of a package to address a wide variety of gun- and violence-related issues, to give them their due. The strategy could force votes on the Uvalde-related legislation specifically.
Texas leaders and the Republican-controlled Legislature have been criticized for failing to toughen legislation after other mass shootings in the state, including the Santa Fe school shooting and the 2019 shooting massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, which killed 23 people and wounded 23 others.
Gutierrez plans to file other bills, and parents plan to make more trips to the Capitol to lobby for their passage.
Some parents have called for an increase in the minimum age to buy assault-style weapons, which is 18 in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott has said doing so would be unconstitutional, based on court rulings. A few states have set the age limit at 21 to buy long guns.
“This has to be the session where we do something. It cannot be the session where we have roundtables. It cannot be the session where we have discussions. It has to be the session where we do something on gun safety,” Gutierrez said.