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In a fundraising appeal, San Antonio state Rep. Roland Gutierrez portrayed fellow Democrat Pete Gallego of Alpine as a "career politician" whose "cozy relationship" with the National Rifle Association prompted him to scrap a meeting with the parents of Sandy Hook children.
As a U.S. House member, we confirmed, Gallego fielded a donation from the NRA, which graded his record highly. But he also met with the parents concerned about gun issues though not at the originally scheduled time, interviews and photos show.
Gutierrez and Gallego, who won a term in Congress after spending more than 20 years in the Texas House, appear to be the highest-profile hopefuls among eight contenders to serve out more than two years left in convicted felon Carlos Uresti’s term representing Texas Senate District 19, which sprawls southwest from San Antonio to the border and west past Alpine and Pecos. The election is July 31, 2018.
Gutierrez declared in a July 18, 2018, campaign email blast that Gallego "in a moment of political cowardice, cancelled a planned meeting with the families of Sandy Hook victims," referring to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six staff members dead.
The Dec. 14, 2012, massacre occurred 20 days before Gallego began what proved to be one term representing Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. But a group of victims’ family members met with individual lawmakers in June 2013, about six months into Gallego’s term.
So, did Gallego cancel his meeting with shooting victims’ families?
Postponed by hours?
A web link in Gutierrez’s email led us to a June 15, 2013, Huffington Post news article recapping efforts by victims’ families and friends to seek a change in law requiring background checks for all gun purchases. Federal law requires such checks for purchases from licensed gun dealers but not in private transactions including gun shows.
The Post story indeed says Gallego canceled his meeting with Newtown Action Alliance, a group that describes itself as a "Newtown-based, national grassroots organization" whose mission is to "achieve the steady and continuous reduction of gun violence through legislative and cultural changes."
Also, the story says, Gallego’s office did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.
But hold on: An update affixed at the end of the story quotes Erin Nikitchyuk, a mother whose son survived the rampage, saying that Gallego rescheduled and then held his meeting with the group, during which he was "conscientious" and "welcoming," Nikitchyuk was quoted saying.
For our part, we asked Nikitchyuk about the described meeting through Facebook messages. She replied: "I absolutely remember meeting with him. In fact, his is the most memorable meeting I had."
Nikitchyuk subsequently messaged us the group’s itinerary from its trip to Washington, D.C., June 12 and 13, 2013 and showing that family members initially expected to meet Gallego at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, June 13.
Nikitchyuk also connected us with another Alliance member, Kari Hulgaard, who posted to Facebook photos of Gallego in the Alliance-coordinated meeting:
Photos courtesy of Kari Hulgaard’s Facebook page (album titled "2013 June Newtown Action Alliance")
Hulgaard posted the photos on Facebook June 14, 2013 and made the photos viewable to anyone after we made our inquiries. By text, she told us she wasn’t sure if the meeting took place that day or simply later than the originally scheduled 9:45 a.m. June 13.
Hulgaard wrote: "Our group was able to spend a generous amount of time with Gallego. He was most endearing and helpful in gaining perspective about how politics work in Texas when it comes to gun violence and gun laws." Nikitchyuk separately told us that among the meeting attendees were "the brother of one teacher who lost her life and at least one survivor sibling."
Gallego, asked for his account, said by phone that the meeting singled out by Gutierrez wasn’t canceled; it was slightly postponed, he said. Gallego said he ultimately met with "eight to 10" members of the Alliance for "an hour, hour and a half," he estimated.
Gallego on changes to gun laws
So, did Gallego commit, after meeting family members, to supporting universal gun-purchase background checks?
He did not, according to the Post story, which quotes Nikitchyuk saying, "we clearly do not have his vote on supporting background checks at this time."
In 2018, she told us by phone that alliance members asked Gallego "where he stands." According to Nikitchyuk, Gallego responded, "Do you want to know where I stand or how I’ll vote? Because they’re not necessarily the same thing." He went on to tell the Alliance they "would need to change the hearts and minds of his constituents," Nikitchyuk said.
By phone, Gallego said he didn’t remember saying he wouldn’t support a bill mandating universal background checks, but did recall talking to the group about restoring a federal assault weapons ban. Nonetheless, Gallego said by text that he now believes "if you’re buying a weapon--whether at a store or at a gun show or through most private transactions, you should pass a background check."
We alerted Colin Strother, a political consultant to Gutierrez, of the indications that Gallego met with the alliance members; Strother stood by Gutierrez’s claim that Gallego had canceled such a meeting. By phone, Strother also noted that Gallego in Congress had an A-level rating from the National Rifle Association, which donated $1,000 to Gallego’s congressional campaign in 2014, federal filings show. Strother also told us Gutierrez supports universal background checks and a federal ban on assault weapons.
Gutierrez said Gallego as a U.S. House member "canceled a planned meeting with the families of Sandy Hook victims."
This claim proved factually incomplete. Interviews and photographs demonstrate that Gallego postponed yet held the meeting at issue. The gathering took place a few hours or possibly a day after it was originally penciled in.
We rate the claim False.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Email blast, "The NRA Loves Pete Gallego," Roland Gutierrez campaign, July 18, 2018
News story, "Newtown families meet with Obama, six months after shooting," CBS News, June 13, 2013
News story, "Newtown Families Leave Washington Frustrated, Hopeful After Background Checks Push," Huffington Post, June 15, 2013
News post/explainer, "Five Questions About Background Checks," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7, 2016
Web page, "About Us," Newtown Action Alliance, undated (accessed July 25, 2018)
Facebook messages, Erin Nikitchyuk, mother of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting survivor, July 25, 2018
Text messages responding to PolitiFact Texas, Kari Hulgaard, July 26, 2018
Phone interview and text messages, Pete Gallego, July 25 and 27, 2018
Newtown Action Alliance Washington, D.C., schedule, June 12 and 13, 2013 (received via Facebook message from Erin Nikitchyuk, July 25, 2018)
U.S. House of Representatives Committee Repository, June 2013 (accessed July 26, 2018)
Phone interview and text messages, Colin Strother, consultant to Roland Gutierrez campaign, July 26, 2018
Web post, "How the N.R.A. Rates Lawmakers," The New York Times, updated Dec. 19, 2012 (accessed July 26, 2018)
Campaign finance report filed by Pete Gallego, "October 15 Quarterly Report," Federal Election Commission, filed Nov. 26, 2014 (accessed July 26, 2018)
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