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“We’re in Crisis”: Texas Democrats Demand Gun Control After Another AR-15 Mass Shooting Kills 5

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Texas authorities have arrested the suspect in last week’s mass shooting in the town of Cleveland and are charging him with five counts of murder. Police say Francisco Oropesa killed five neighbors in the home next door, including a 9-year-old child, after the family asked him to stop firing his AR-15-style rifle in his yard because it was keeping a baby awake. Texas Governor Greg Abbott drew backlash after the shooting for referring to the victims as “illegal immigrants,” for which he later apologized. “His goal is to dehumanize people,” Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez says of Abbott, adding that the governor has done nothing to stem gun violence and easy access to weapons. “Republican policies across this country have led to a very loose gun policy that allows just about anybody, and certainly in Texas, to go find a weapon like an AR-15 with impunity.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show in Texas, where a tip to the FBI led police to the man suspected of shooting to death five people. Francisco Oropesa was arrested Tuesday outside of Houston in a town called Cut and Shoot, inside a closet under some laundry, hiding. Oropesa shot his neighbors after being asked to stop firing his rifle while a 1-month-old baby was trying to sleep inside. Police say he shot the victims with his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle “execution style,” after one of the survivors, Wilson Garcia, asked him to stop firing rounds in his yard as the loud noise was keeping Garcia’s baby awake. Police say the victims were all from Honduras. The gunman was born in Mexico.

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott is facing backlash after he described the victims of the mass shooting as, quote, “five illegal immigrants.” On Monday, a spokesperson for Abbott walked back part of his comments, said the governor regretted if his remarks detracted from finding the shooter.

This is San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers speaking earlier.

SHERIFF GREG CAPERS: My heart is with this 8-year-old little boy. I don’t care if he was here legally. I don’t care if he was here illegally. He was in my county. Five people died in my county, and that is where my heart is.

AMY GOODMAN: When the governor, Abbott, tried to walk back his comments, he tried to take — to respond to the criticism of saying it was five dead “illegal immigrants” by saying he then thought that maybe one of them might have been legal.

This comes as President Biden is sending 1,500 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border ahead of next week’s end of Title 42, which he and Trump used to block most access to asylum seekers. The troops will join 2,500 National Guardsmen who are already there to work with Border Patrol.

For more, we’re joined in San Antonio by Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, the site of the school massacre less than a year ago, when 19 children and two teachers were killed, also with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. He was just at the state Capitol in Austin yesterday to join the Uvalde families who are demanding a vote on gun safety legislation.

Senator, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Why don’t you start off by responding to Governor Abbott’s response to the murder of the five people, including a 9-year-old boy, talking about the dead, quote, “illegal immigrants”?

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, thank you, Amy, first off.

I mean, it’s very clear here that Greg Abbott has just reached an all new low. I mean, they were just people. They were human beings. And he refuses to — at every step along the way in his policy, his goal is to dehumanize people, dehumanize Latin Americans, dehumanize Hispanics. And that’s what he’s done for the last several years. Certainly, the last few days was a culmination of all of that hatred that he spews. And it’s part of why we’re broken as a nation.

We just certainly need to come back together and understand that we’re all in this together. I think that sheriff, Sheriff Capers, said it best. He didn’t see color. He saw five people who lost their lives, including a little boy. In a previous interview, he mentioned how tragically and what damage the bullets from the AR-15 did to their bodies. Those are the same images that I’ve seen in the bodycam footage in Uvalde. People need to understand what’s really going on in this nation, and we need to fix it.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday in the state Legislature, can you talk about what the Legislature was doing with setting up memorials for the people dead in Uvalde, as the parents were asking for what they considered a much more important memorial, which would be to regulate guns?

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, Amy, as you know, they had resolutions yesterday. The anniversary is coming up on the 24th of May. We are in a situation now where, unfortunately, nothing has been undone in the Texas Senate. We’ll have our own resolution on the 24th, but that’s not what the families want. The families want to be able to have legislation heard that’s going to effect change. And that’s extreme risk protective orders. That’s raising an age limit. That’s closing the gun show loophole, creating universal background checks. Those are the basic issues that we need to address in this space, and we’re just not. We’re not as a nation. We’re certainlly not as a state in Texas. That’s truly what the families want. They’re tired of thoughts and prayers. They want their children’s lives to have not been lost in vain.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the state of gun safety laws in Texas, where you have one after another after another mass shooting? You’ve been having some Twitter wars with fellow legislators as they talk about the problem being immigration, and sending — and, you know, shutting down the border. And it looks like Biden — well, we’ll talk about that in a minute — will be sending the military to the border. But your responses, saying this isn’t about immigration, it’s about guns?

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: No, certainly, Amy. I’ll tell that, you know, I hate the fact that I’m having to have these discussions on Twitter with folks on the other side. I’d rather have the discussions on the Senate floor. But the fact is that’s part and parcel of the problem. I mean, here we had the Republican Party leader in Austin, as well as the governor and others, say this is an immigration issue. This is a — we have lax policies at the border, he claims, and this is why this happened. No, this happened because an undocumented person was able to get a hold of an AR-15.

How did that happen? The facts are that Republican policies across this country have led to a very loose gun policy that allows just about anybody, and certainly in Texas, to go find a weapon like an AR-15 with impunity. You could go to a gun show, and you don’t need to even so much as show an identification if you’re buying from an unlicensed dealer. That happens every Saturday, every Sunday in Texas at gun shows across this state. How is it that we are allowing people to access this type of weaponry with zero regulation? That all has happened in Texas under a 30-year regime that has done nothing more than to amplify and expand access to militarized weaponry. How is that human? How is that humane? How is that even — how does that make even any sense at all? These people, all they’ve done is create chaos. And now they have to live with it, and so they’re deflecting in other areas.

AMY GOODMAN: You have Republicans in Texas, led by Abbott, talking about arming more people, which certainly satisfies the NRA. But look at what happened in Uvalde. How many — what was it? Three hundred seventy-six law enforcement officers descended on the school? Talk about heavily armed and militarized. And they wouldn’t move in on this shooter. I mean, what is the latest on the investigation into that, and the role of Greg Abbott in defending what took place? For more than an hour, these children, wise, terrified children, called the police.

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, you’re right, Amy. I mean, the fact is that, you know, Greg Abbott has called for zero accountability of his top cop, Steve McCraw. There has been zero transparency. The public knows very little as to what went on. You know, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen all of the bodycam footage. I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement. The images are horrible.

And the statements from the police are just as horrible, the statements that they’ve made on camera philosophizing about how this happens every day in America, rather than be in the moment doing their jobs. You know, their post statements would suggest — their post-incident statements would suggest that they were afraid of the AR-15. There has been zero accountability, zero willingness to recognize the failure that happened. Three hundred and seventy-six supposed good guys with cops stood around while kids died, in fear of their lives. The kids were braver than the police that day. This will be forever the collective shame of Texas.

And yet, we have people in power in Texas that have done absolutely nothing to fix any element of what went on — nothing on gun safety solutions, nothing on victims’ compensation funds, nothing on training accountability, nothing on accepting the truth of what occurred on May 24th, which was the worst law enforcement failure to a police shooting in our nation’s history.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you have what just happened with the killing of five people, including the 9-year-old boy, the unbelievable bravery of the women inside the home who used their bodies to protect children underneath them, and they both died, the women, but they did successfully protect the children. The dad, Wilson Garcia, said they called the police at least five times as this man next door, someone they knew, continued to shoot off this AR-15 in the yard. I mean, maybe that’s where response to the Latinx community should be raised?

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: I mean, certainly. You know, the police didn’t think that this was a significant event. Take it back to Uvalde: They didn’t think that a young man going into the same gun shop for three days, buying two AR-15s, buying hundreds of rounds of ammunition — no one thought that was a significant event to call the police. There is an absolute, you know, what I call an irreverence, when it comes to Hispanic communities in Texas, and Uvalde was certainly one of those.

At the end of the day, you know, what we saw in Uvalde, in all of that failure, and even leading up to the event, which was a community asking for — to fix the radios, which the radios didn’t work on that day — certainly, that neglect, there is some racism in neglect. There is people that are in power deciding who gets what. The situation up in San Jacinto County, you had people call the police, and the police not respond to something that I think they felt was just an everyday occurrence in rural Texas, which is people shooting their guns off.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to —

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: And — yes, ma’am.

AMY GOODMAN: — go to Wilson Garcia describing what happened.

WILSON GARCIA: [translated] Yes, I was the one that went there, because my child — when he shot, my child began to cry. He is a month and a half. My wife came out and asked me, “Do you think you can tell the neighbor if he can shoot a little bit further from where we are?” That is, the back of his house. I went there, and, in fact, there were three of us who went to talk to him. And we weren’t disrespectful. We asked him if he could do us a favor and shoot a bit further away, because my 1-and-a-half-month-old child was crying. He answered me that he was on his property and he could do whatever he wanted. I told him, “OK, fine. Do it. I’m not going to fight. I’m going to call the police, and you can deal with them.” We went back inside, and my wife was talking to the police. In fact, she talked to them five times, because the man was threatening more intensely. …

One of the people who was killed saw my wife. She was agonizing on the ground. And she told me to jump out the window because my children were already without their mother, and one of us would have to be left alive to take care of them. And she was the one who helped me to throw myself out the window, but she failed to do so for herself. She died.

AMY GOODMAN: Wilson Garcia. His wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman, and his 9-year-old son, Daniel Enrique Laso, were among those killed. Senator Roland Gutierrez, you have, what, introduced something like 50 gun safety bills into the state Legislature? The sense of the people of Texas? I mean, even the membership of the NRA is against the leadership. What about the population of Texas?

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: You know, 76% of Republicans want commonsense gun safety solutions. I introduced 22 bills. All told, 50 amongst all Democrats, and a few spatterings of Republican bills that were really not very meaningful in their regard, in their context.

That said, you know, the people in Texas are asking for commonsense gun safety solutions. Seventy-six percent of Republicans want extreme risk protective orders. They want to close the gun show loophole. And they want to raise the age limit. And yet, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, our lieutenant governor, and the speaker of the House, Dade Phelan, have no interest in doing what’s right for Texas, doing what’s humane, doing what every other state, including governors like Bill Lee in Tennessee, have done, including what Rick Scott did after Parkland. We’re in crisis, and the leaders in Texas are doing absolutely nothing to prevent the leading cause of death amongst children in America.

AMY GOODMAN: State Senator Gutierrez, I wanted to end by asking you about President Biden’s announcement yesterday that he’s sending 1,500 more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border ahead of next week’s end of the Title 42 pandemic policy, which he and Trump used to block most access to asylum seekers. Your response? I mean, he’s gotten pushback not only from Republicans knee-jerk criticizing him, but from Democrats, as well.

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: You know, I support the president. You know, Title 8 works. Title 42 doesn’t. The fact is, what Title 42 was, it created a situation where immigrants were finding the side door, crossing the river, rather than going and asking for asylum in a proper way. At the end of the day, we certainly have an immigration problem that needs to be fixed in Washington. We have 13 million undocumenteds that have been here for almost 30 years. That needs to be addressed. We have a million DREAMers. We’ve got to fix that situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned about further —

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: And our farmers, our ranchers, our construction companies — 

AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned about — 

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: — our restaurants across the United States are in a labor shortage. We need to fix that with some of these arriving immigrants.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds, but are you concerned about increased militarization of the border and what that could mean?

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: You know, certainly, it’s always a concern, but I also represent a great expanse of the border. I also understand that my communities want to have a little bit more policing there. I would rather have the federal government than DPS troopers that are doing an ineffective job, National Guardsmen, nine of which have committed suicide, one of them which drowned in a river because Greg Abbott didn’t give him the resources necessary to save himself. And so, I’d rather do a better job —

AMY GOODMAN: I have to interrupt you there — 

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: — through the federal government.

AMY GOODMAN: — but I thank you for being with us, state Senator Roland Gutierrez. I’m Amy Goodman.

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