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In surprise vote, Texas House committee advances bill to raise minimum age to buy assault rifles

Gloria Cazares, the mother of 9-year-old Uvalde shooting victim Jackie Cazares, is hugged by Rep. Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland, right, and Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, left, after a House panel advanced on Monday, May 8, 2023 a measure that would raise to 21 the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Gloria Cazares, the mother of 9-year-old Uvalde shooting victim Jackie Cazares, is hugged by Rep. Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland, right, and Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin. A House panel advanced a measure Monday that would raise to 21 the minimum age to buy a semiautomatic weapon.

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In a previously unscheduled vote, Texas lawmakers on Monday advanced a measure that would raise the age limit for purchasing assault-style weapons.

House Bill 2744 has been pushed by families of victims in last year’s Robb Elementary School shooting, which left 19 students and two teachers dead. They say a higher minimum age would have prevented the mass shooting.

If passed, the legislation would raise the minimum age required to purchase semi-automatic rifles — like the one used in Uvalde — from 18 to 21. Most Texans are currently not allowed to carry handguns before that age.

Berlinda Arreola, the step grandmother of 10-year-old Uvalde victim Amerie Jo Garza, has been going to the Texas Capitol almost every week to advocate for the measure.

After the vote by the House Select Committee on Community Safety, she told reporters she’s thankful lawmakers took this step.

“Actually winning the vote — it was just overwhelming. It was a huge, huge success for us,” Arreola said, adding “I know that we are not done. We know that we have more fighting to do.”

The measure has to be voted on by the full Texas House by this Thursday in order to have a real chance of becoming law.

Unexpected vote

Before the surprise vote, the bill was presumed dead. A crowd of Uvalde parents and gun safety advocates rallied at the Capitol Monday morning calling for lawmakers to “do the right thing.”

But Republican lawmakers seemed unmoved by the protest. In fact, Rep. Ryan Guillen, the GOP chairman of the House Select Committee on Community Safety, initially told reporters Monday morning that his panel was not going to vote on the measure.

“The support is not there in the Legislature,” Guillen said.

But, after a procedural move by Democrats — and a conversation between Guillen and Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso — Guillen’s committee scheduled a last minute meeting to vote on the measure.

The committee called for a vote on HB 2744 without any discussion on the measure. It passed out of committee on a 8-5 vote. Two Republicans, Reps. Sam Harless of Spring and Justin Holland of Rockwall, voted with Democrats on the measure.

Inside the hearing room, the crowd erupted into applause and tears as Uvalde parents celebrated the bittersweet victory.

In an interview with The Texas Newsroom, Rep. Harless said lawmakers did the right thing.

“All of our kids have a right to go to school and they have the right to feel safe and so do their parents. The shootings right now are just happening too often,” Harless said. “So, if this is something we can do to stop it, then I’m all for it.”

Harless said the issue feels personal, adding he has two photos of 10-year-old Uvalde victim Uziyah on his computer.

“It was the least we could do for the families,” Harless said.

Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, authored the measure. He initially thought his bill was dead on arrival. But after the committee vote, King’s eyes welled up with tears.

“We are just ecstatic we were able to get it this far,” King said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”

Nikki Cross, the mother of 10-year-old Uvalde victim Uziyah, hugged her husband Brett Cross and cried.

She told The Texas Newsroom it was “about damn time” the committee acted on the proposal.

Cross said she was ready for the next battle: Getting the measure up for a vote of the full House.

Before that, it has to clear the House Calendars Committee.

“We are not gonna go away,” Cross said. “We are going to fight this all the way to the Senate — and we are ready.”

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