Texas senator proposes gun laws allowing school shooting victims to sue state, impose firearms tax
Written by ABC Audio. All rights reserved. on January 25, 2023
(AUSTIN, Texas) — After multiple mass shootings across the country this week, Uvalde families gathered Tuesday as Texas legislators introduced four new bills that would tighten gun laws in the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting last May.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, introduced bills that, if enacted, would empower survivors of school shootings to sue Texas state agencies, allow Texas law enforcement officials to be sued for their on-the-job conduct, create a permanent compensation fund for victims of school shootings by imposing a tax on state gun sales, and repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a federal law that shields gun sellers and manufacturers from liability.
Watchers of Texas politics said gun reform has little chance of getting passed without support from Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature as well as the governorship.
Gutierrez told ABC News that none of the proposed bills currently have a Republican willing to co-sponsor, but that all of them would eventually have companion bills in the Texas House of Representatives.
“Most of these are nonpartisan issues,” he said.
Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said it is time to address the nation’s gun problems as the list of mass shootings continues to grow.
“We can sue big tobacco when they market towards kids, but we can’t sue big guns. It’s ludicrous,” Gutierrez said. “How that ever got passed is beyond me and I think my Republican colleagues can get behind me on that one.”
Last May, an 18-year-old gunman armed with an assault-style rifle attacked Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 students and two of their teachers. It was the second-worst school shooting in United States history, and it has spawned several lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
Velma Duran, sister of slain teacher Irma Garcia and a former teacher at Robb Elementary, urged legislators to consider the proposed bills.
“I come here pleading with you to take notice of these common-sense gun laws that we as Americans and teachers and children need in order to live in peace,” Duran said. “Are you waiting for it to happen to you or your family before you take the time to stop this gross negligence?”
Texas lawmakers filed more than 30 gun regulation bills ahead of the 2022 Texas legislative session, the first such lawmaking session since the Robb Elementary shooting. Other proposals include raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21, implementing red flag laws, and mandating background checks for all gun sales.
“The age limit should be raised to 21 because having families torn apart is unlivable… an 18-year-old should not be allowed to purchase this kind of weapon,” Felicia Martinez, mother of victim Xavier Lopez, said on Tuesday,
“These laws need to be changed and they need to be changed today, not tomorrow,” Martinez said.
Despite Uvalde families’ continuous efforts to lobby for gun reforms, many having gone to Washington, D.C., last year to advocate for a federal assault weapons ban, Texas experts said it will be an uphill battle.
Mark Jones, professor of Political Science at Rice University in Houston, said he is doubtful any gun control policy will make it to law this session.
“All of that has been proposed,” Jones told ABC News, “None of it is going to pass.”
Jones said while most Republicans view proposed reforms as infringements on their second amendment rights, legislators face a tough reality in the Uvalde case.
“Uvalde is a difficult issue for lawmakers in that one of the more common-sense gun reforms that has been proposed, that is raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21, could have been relevant and prevented, if not the massacre itself, then the scale of the massacre,” Jones said.
Houston University Professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the Republican majority under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick holds all the power.
“[Republicans] set the agenda in the state senate. They set the committees, they set the priorities. So, they have a lot of power,” Rottinghaus told ABC News.
“The way that they talk about this is that it’s a public safety issue not a gun issue. Anything that’s related to guns and the restricting of firearms are probably not going to pass,” Rottinghaus said.
Others in the Legislature are already looking beyond gun legislation and dealing in the political realities of the gun-enthused state.
Representative Shawn Thierry, a Democrat representing parts of south Houston, has proposed several pieces of gun control legislation but has also advocated for measures to beef up school security.
Thierry plans to submit a bill that would require school districts to adopt an array of school security technology to mitigate threats to students and teachers, like electronic metal detectors and panic alert buttons.
“These backstops are going to be necessary even if we raise the legal purchase age to 21, even if we ban assault weapons, even if we mandate background checks,” Thierry told ABC News. “Those measures would not eliminate the need for additional school security.”
Thierry has also proposed legislation that would impose a 1,000% tax on assault rifle purchases — a measure she says could have bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled chamber.
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