UVALDE, Texas — State Sen. Roland Gutierrez is calling for a special session of the Texas State Legislature to enact common sense gun laws, placing blame on elected Republicans and the gun lobby after the shooting at Robb Elementary that killed 21 on Tuesday.
Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio who represents Uvalde in District 19, interrupted a press conference that Gov. Greg Abbott was giving this week to call for action on gun control. "We've got to do something, man," he said.
In the days after the attack, Abbott has dismissed the idea that more restrictive gun laws would help.
At the memorial that is growing outside of the elementary school where 19 students and two of their teachers were killed, Gutierrez spoke to KENS 5 about the pain of this past week, and what change he hopes will come.
"I'm gonna keep yelling, I'm gonna keep demanding it," he told KENS 5's Henry Ramos. "People are demanding change, Democrats and Republicans."
"How is it that an 18-year-old can walk into a store down the street, buy two automatic rifles in three different days, 1,800 rounds of ammunition, and no one stops to say anything?" he continued. "It needs to be raised to 21, we need to have waiting periods, we need to have red flag laws, there's about three things that most people agree on."
Standing in the way, he said, are elected Republicans and the gun lobby that helps fund their election campaigns.
"If most Democrats and Republicans agree on them, then why aren't we doing them? It only comes down to one thing, and that's the NRA, gun manufacturers and their money that they're giving to the Republican party," he said. "If Greg Abbott wants to go lobby for them, if he wants to be an advocate for them, that's on him, but the people of Texas are sick and tired of this. He's had eight massacres under his watch. Enough is enough."
The National Rifle Association held its annual convention in Houston over Memorial Day weekend, just days after the shooting at Robb Elementary. Abbott spoke via pre-recorded video message, while Ted Cruz and Donald Trump appeared in person. All have taken political contributions from the NRA.
"There's bipartisan support in the constituency, the voters," Gutierrez said. "It's the folks in Austin, the Republicans in Austin that don't want to move a bit because they'd rather advocate for the NRA than advocate for their constituents that want common sense gun laws. Look, I'm a gun owner, but this is ridiculous. These weapons in the hands of 18-year-olds, makes zero sense, and we have to create some change there."
For decades mass shootings have sparked nationwide debate on gun control, but done little to move the needle on enacting gun control measures. Gutierrez says that even some Republican colleagues are now calling for action in a way he hasn't seen before.
"I've had two Republicans, one in the House, one in the Senate, already call for a special session. That has never happened before," he said. "You've got colleagues that are calling me – they're anonymous at this point, they don't want me to say who they are – they're telling me, 'Maybe the 21 (years old) thing makes sense.' Of course it makes sense!"
Authorities said the 18-year-old shooter in Uvalde was able to legally purchase two assault rifles and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
"We've got work to do, Greg Abbott wants to blow us off. He wants to blow us off. We need to go back in two, three weeks, uncover what went on over here, and make sure that we have adequate and substantial change on our gun laws," Gutierrez said. "Let's create gun laws, because we have none. Every time we go back in that building every other year, all they do is create more accessibility to guns instead of less."
Texas Republicans passed a bill in 2021, signed by Gov. Abbott, that allows anyone who can legally purchase a gun to carry that gun in public without a permit or license. The bill was opposed by gun safety advocates and law enforcement groups. Abbott said that the bill was “the strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history.”
18-year-olds cannot buy handguns legally in the state, but they can purchase rifles like the one used in Uvalde and in many other mass shootings.
Outside of the larger conversation on gun control, Gutierrez said he's grieving with the families in his community, and working to make sure they have resources to get through this crisis in the short and long term.
"It's been really emotionally draining, you're just on a rollercoaster, but I don't even think about myself when I see the families," Gutierrez said. "I want to assure them that they have adequate state resources, make sure that we find more resources for them. No one should feel like they're in need for anything. I want them to know that we're here for them, and we're here for the long haul."
Those needs will include mental health care for those who have been deeply traumatized, especially the young children who survived the attack and the families of those who did not.
"I've asked Greg Abbott to give us $2 million for this community, the community health clinic, so that we can bring long-term mental healthcare," Gutierrez said. "There is only one psychiatrist in Uvalde, that is the problem of rural Texas. We need licensed social workers here rather than doing teletherapy. Therapy is a little bit different than telemedicine you really need to have that personal touch."
This need for care will continue long after Uvalde leaves the national headlines, the Texas lawmaker added, as will the pain in the community.
"This is just the beginning. Our families here that are affected are on a rollercoaster ride of their own, a thousand times what you and I are going through," Gutierrez said. "But I'm not gonna leave, and we're gonna make sure that we keep doing what we need to do for our constituents."