Texas lawmakers closed a background check loophole, but many gun measures failed to pass
The first legislative session since the worst school shooting in Texas history ended with several proposals that would have limited some access to guns failing to get traction, though one firearm safety bill became law.
Senate Bill 728, from Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, closes a loophole in state law that allowed people who had serious mental health issues as juveniles to legally purchase firearms. Despite a previous state law, courts were not reporting juvenile psychiatric hospitalizations to a federal gun background check system.
Under the new law, a judge’s orders that a minor receive inpatient mental health treatment will now be reported in the background check system that federally licensed dealers are required to check before they sell someone a firearm.
In an investigation last year, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica found that local courts were not reporting juvenile records because of problems with the way the law was written, vague guidance from the state and conflicts with other Texas laws.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill Friday. It takes effect Sept. 1.
It was a rare instance of a bill that could limit some gun access making it through Texas’ Republican-led Legislature, which has steadily loosened firearm restrictions. Lawmakers supporting the measure argued that it didn’t change existing state or federal laws.
Notably, lawmakers did not pass a bill that would have raised the minimum age to purchase certain semi-automatic firearms from 18 to 21. The families of Uvalde school shooting victims passionately and vocally pushed for House Bill 2744, from Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville.
A House committee unexpectedly advanced HB 2744, but the bill missed a key legislative deadline the following day. Lawmakers’ efforts to revive the provision through amendments subsequently failed, and neither chamber ever debated the idea or held a record vote on the proposal. The Uvalde gunman legally bought his firearms within days of turning 18 and soon after killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
Lawmakers also passed a bill aimed at preventing credit card companies and banks in the state from tracking the purchases of guns, ammo and accessories. In an interview with Dana Loesch, bill author Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said that gun control advocates — including U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — have been pushing credit card companies to begin such data collection.
Other bills received some support but didn’t make it to Abbott’s desk. They included one that would have designated August as Firearm Safety Awareness Month, another that would have outlawed tiny devices used to modify handguns essentially into fully automatic firearms and another that would have restricted straw purchases, which is when a person buys a gun for another person who is not allowed to have one.
State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, carried SB 728, the gun bill closing the background check loophole. He represents Allen, where a gunman armed with an AR-15-style rifle killed eight people and wounded at least seven others in May at an outlet mall.
“There are many individuals and many groups whose first response — and they tell us to do something, just do something — they want us to do something and I’ve always kind of resisted just doing something because I think that we should do the right thing,” Leach said in laying out SB 728 11 days after the Allen shooting. “We should be interested in being careful and safely guarding our Second Amendment rights but also doing the right things that can curb unnecessary and tragic gun violence.”