‘Raise the age’ gun bill passes Texas committee after months of advocacy by Uvalde families

In a shocking and last-minute turn of events in Texas, a bill that would raise the minimum age to purchase AR-15 style semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21 passed out of a House committee Monday, advancing the measure hours before a key deadline. 

Several Uvalde victims' relatives burst into sobs and cheers in the Capitol hearing room when two Republicans joined all the Democrats on the committee to advance the bill by an 8-5 vote.

“I'm feeling very overwhelmed, very emotional,” Kimberly Garcia said through tears after the committee vote. Her 10-year-old daughter, Amerie Jo Garza, was one of the 19 fourth graders and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24, 2022.

“I was super worried, but I feel like my daughter did this, and I feel like she's making a difference, and I'm proud of her. I hate that it's come down to this, but I know that she's always with me, and I know that I'm not going to let anyone ever forget her," Garcia said.

Uvalde victims' relatives have been advocating for lawmakers to pass House Bill 2744 for months, coming to the Capitol nearly every week during the legislative session to demand its passage and even waiting more than 13 hours to testify in support of the bill in a committee hearing in April.

Their unrelenting push for lawmakers to pass gun control legislation has been an uphill battle in a Republican-dominated Legislature that has loosened gun restrictions in recent sessions. Monday’s vote, however, was a significant victory for the families. 

As recently as 10 a.m. Monday, Rio Grande City Republican Rep. Ryan Guillen, who chairs the committee where the bill was pending, had said he was not planning to bring the bill up for a vote because he didn’t believe it had the votes to pass in the full House. 

But by 11 a.m., after an emotional protest and news conference by the Uvalde families and gun control activists Monday, Guillen changed course.

The Uvalde gunman purchased his AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle legally just days after his 18th birthday, having unsuccessfully tried to acquire one before he was legally old enough to do so under state law. 

While Monday’s progress was a major, and unexpected, step forward, the future of the bill remains uncertain. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan previously said he would be willing to let a debate on the bill play out on the House floor but cautioned that he doesn’t believe it has the votes to pass the House.

Gov. Greg Abbott has said he believes the measure to be unconstitutional. A spokesperson for the speaker’s office declined to comment on the bill’s progress Monday, and a representative for the governor did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Family members of Uvalde victims Julissa Rizo and Javier Cazarez hug after the House Select Committee on Community Safety votes HB2744 out of committee at the Texas Capitol Monday, May 8, 2023. HB2744 would raise the age to purchase assault weapons.

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