Austin, Texas – The unexpected euphoria felt by gun control advocates and the families of Uvalde shooting victims this week dissolved into despair on Tuesday when a bill that would have raised the age for the legal purchase of semi-automatic rifles lost its newfound momentum and was left off the Texas House agenda. of a key deadline.
Barring an unexpected development, the delay likely ends the bill’s chances of becoming law.
The proposal has long faced severe difficulties in a state that has routinely relaxed gun restrictions in recent years. But on Monday, in the aftermath of the deadly shooting at an Allen mall, a House committee unexpectedly advanced the legislation in an 8-5 vote that included two Republicans who supported it.
However, that left little time to add the bill to the House calendar. The last day for the House to pass bills is Thursday, and the House agenda must be approved 36 hours before convening. This creates a de facto deadline around 10pm on Tuesday for the measure to be entered into the calendar.
When that hour arrived on Tuesday night, House Bill 2744 remained off the list.
Proponents of the measure, especially the parents of the children who died at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, who supported the entire session, pushed through to the end. A few minutes before 10 p.m., a small group stood outside the House floor holding placards and chanting and demanding that the bill be heard on the floor. Even then, they could be faintly heard from the back of the chamber.
“2-7-4-4,” they yelled. “Put this bill on the floor.”
There were less than a dozen of them, but they could be heard inside the chamber of the Chamber: their chants were so loud that the Capitol staff closed the doors to the viewing gallery on the second floor.
Perhaps loudest was Brett Cross, whose 10-year-old son, Uziyah Garcia, was fatally shot by an AR-15 in one of Robb’s classrooms. As the clock passed 10 p.m., a few Democrats left the courtroom and hugged him. Shortly thereafter, witnesses on the Capitol said, a Public Safety Department agent approached with a decibel monitor, informed him he was too loud, and escorted him out of the building. Cross continued to chant the bill number as he left.
“This is just another fucking attempt to slow us down and stop” Cross said on Twitter. “2744 may have died tonight, but we will never stop!
“Fucking Texas with the Wrong Parents!”
Another parent, Kimberly Mata-Rubio, who lost 10-year-old daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio in the shooting, vowed to travel to the precincts of House Speaker Dade Phelan, Calendar Committee Chair Dustin Burrows and the Community Safety Select Committee Chair Ryan Guillen and “share Lexi’s story and the disrespect shown to Uvalde’s families.”
“It’s not over,” she said. “We will regroup, redefine strategy and come back stronger.”
HB 2744, filed by Democrat Rep. Tracy King of Batesville, would prohibit the sale, rental, lease, or delivery of a semi-automatic rifle with a caliber greater than .22 capable of accepting a detachable magazine to a person under the age of 21 years — an increase from 18 years. The proposal includes several exemptions that King said he added after hearing concerns from constituents.
Opposition to the bill has not been vocal in the legislature, but the Republican leadership is fiercely protective of gun rights and reluctant to push anything that challenges them. Gun advocates say the measure would do little to deter crime and would only harm law-abiding gun owners. They also argue that gun ownership is an ingrained American right that should not be violated by the government.
Since landing a hearing last month — which in itself marked a milestone in a pro-gun legislature — HB 2744 had been left in committee and was ready to be left there.
That is, until Monday, when scores of supporters, including many relatives of those killed by gunfire, filled the Capitol building to urge lawmakers to move it forward. The committee was met with sobs and cheers after a last-minute vote.
The gunman at Robb Elementary in Uvalde used an AR-15-style rifle, which he purchased just days after he turned 18, after unsuccessfully trying to get relatives to illegally buy him a gun. He killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Relatives of the victims have been coming to the Capitol all year to urge lawmakers to raise the age, holding exciting press conferences and speaking with lawmakers and state officials.
Their urgency only increased over the weekend after a gunman killed eight people in Allen.
At least two Republicans appeared swayed on Monday.
“I’m not naïve enough to think that laws alone will prevent the kind of senseless violence that happens too often in our state,” She said Rep. Justin Holland, a Rockwall Republican who voted to advance the bill out of committee, in a statement Monday. “But after hearing many hours of testimony during this session, I have become convinced that this minor change to the law could serve as a significant obstacle for a young person (not old enough to buy tobacco or alcohol) acquiring a specific type of semi-automatic rifle intent to use it in a destructive and illegal manner.”
When it became clear on Tuesday afternoon that the bill was once again in jeopardy, supporters expressed their frustration. Some have left signs urging their passage outside the Calendar Committee meeting room. Others protested outside the office of Rep. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, the chairman of the committee that moved the bill forward on Monday.
Guillen could not be reached immediately for comment on whether the committee’s report had been sent to the calendar committee or whether it would be before the deadline.
“I am disgusted that HB 2744 will not be taken to a full House vote,” She said Rep. Jarvis Johnson, a Houston Democrat who voted on Monday to advance the bill as a member of the House Select Committee. “For once, the legislature appeared to be listening to its constituents and doing the right thing after pulling this bill out of committee.”
Lawmakers could use other approaches to revive the proposal. But proponents are realistic that the measure will most likely ultimately fail. Even if it were to pass the House — an ambitious request — it would still have to go through a Senate that was perhaps even more skeptical of the idea.
“How many more children have to die before we act?” said one supporter, Bishop John Ogletree, a Houston pastor, in a statement.
Alexa Ura contributed to the report.
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