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18-year-olds can buy an AR-15-style rifle in Texas. Now some Uvalde residents want the legal age raised.

Flowers, stuffed animals, flags and ribbons line the Uvalde Town Square memorial to the 21 killed in the Robb Elementary mass shooting.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
A memorial for the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting outside Uvalde's town square grows every day, with visitors bringing flowers and other gifts to honor the 21 dead.

Rene Garcia has been coming to Uvalde’s town square almost every day since last week’s shooting.

Each day is the same routine: He parks his truck in one of the spots around the square, rolls down his windows, faces the growing memorial for the victims and thinks.

“I’m sad that this happened. I’m very sad. I wish it’d never happened,” Garcia told The Texas Newsroom Thursday. “I’m just looking for answers and I don’t know where to find them.”

Garcia said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen after this shooting. But he hopes the state changes at least one gun law.

He wants the minimum age to purchase AR-15-style rifles increased from 18 to 21.

“Let’s face it, your insurance, your auto insurance, if you are less than 25 years old, it goes skyrocket because between the ages of the time you drive to the age [of 25] — they figured you are still a kid,” Garcia said. “You haven’t grown up enough.”

The same should apply to semi-automatic rifles, he said. Many in the community feel the same way.

Currently, federal law prohibits individuals younger than 21 from purchasing a handgun from a licensed dealer. However, they can purchase a handgun from another Texas resident.

But state law allows for individuals 18 and older to buy long guns, like AR-15s.

For many people in places like Uvalde, guns are ingrained in the culture, Garcia said. The city’s website even makes reference to its hunting opportunities. It says parts of the city are home to many native and exotic species of animals, including the white-tailed deer and three different species of dove.

Garcia, who is a veteran of the U.S. Army, has a few firearms himself, including an AR-15. That’s the type of semi-automatic rifle purchased by the Uvalde shooter days before the tragedy.

“I have an AR. But like I said, it’s for recreation only,” Garcia said, adding he doesn’t hunt with it. Instead he goes to the shooting range with friends to shoot a few rounds.

For Delia Martinez, this issue hits close to home. She knew Irma and Joe Garcia.

Irma was a teacher at Robb Elementary School. Joe died of a heart attack two days after the shooting.

“It’s hard what happened — how this child, being 18, was able to get a gun when was not old enough to buy beers, cigarettes,” Martinez said.

The alleged shooter, Uvalde resident Salvador Ramos, bought two semi-automatic rifles in the days after his 18th birthday.

Police say that in the late morning of May 24, Ramos shot his grandmother before fleeing in a vehicle and crashing in a ditch close to Robb Elementary School.

The shooter entered the school through an unlocked door, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

The gunman then entered a classroom, and killed 19 children and two teachers. Law enforcement officers waited over 70 minutes to confront him.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, said it will be up to the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature to decide whether to increase the minimum age.

Gutierrez told reporters Thursday he’s talked to his Republican colleagues — although he didn’t say who — and that they’ve said they support similar legislation.

But Gutierrez said it’s also up to the governor.

“When my Republican constituents call me and ask for common sense gun solutions like raising the age from 18 to 21 I tell them, ‘Call the guy you vote for, Greg Abbott,’” he said.

It’s unlikely Abbott would support such a measure. He has already said the focus moving forward should be on addressing mental health needs, and making schools more secure.

“The ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years,” Abbott said during a press conference days after the shooting. “Think about [how] during the time over the course of that 60 years we have not had episodes like this.”

Abbott said “all options are on the table," but so far he has not called for a special session to address gun violence or gun safety. Instead, he has asked state lawmakers to form committees to develop legislative recommendations on social media, mental health, school safety and firearm safety.

Abbott is running for reelection, and it’s unclear whether he would push his Republican colleagues to tighten gun restrictions.

Juan Castillon, a native of Uvalde, said he hopes something comes out of this tragedy.

He also knew the Garcias, and said he wants the state Legislature to increase the minimum age.

“We shouldn’t have 18-year-olds going and getting like military weapons,” Castillon said. “Look what they are using them for.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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