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The unexpected elation felt this week by gun control advocates and the families of the Uvalde shooting victims turned to despair Tuesday when a bill that would have raised the age to legally purchase semiautomatic rifles lost its newfound momentum and was shut down by the Texas House agenda before a key deadline.
Barring an unexpected development, the delay likely ends the bill’s chances of becoming law.
The proposal has long faced serious odds in a state that has regularly loosened gun restrictions in recent years. But on Monday, after the deadly Allen Mall shooting, a House committee unexpectedly advanced the legislation in an 8-5 vote that included two Republicans who supported it.
However, that left little time for the bill to be added to the House calendar. The last day the House can pass bills is Thursday, and the House’s agenda must be approved 36 hours before it convenes. This creates a de facto deadline of around 10pm on Tuesday for the measure to be placed on the calendar.
When that hour arrived Tuesday night, House Bill 2744 remained off the list.
Supporters of the measure, particularly the parents of children who died at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, who had been advocating for it throughout the session, pushed to the end. Minutes before 10 p.m., a small group stood outside the House chamber, holding signs and chanting, calling for the bill to be heard on the floor. Even then, they were faintly audible from the back of the camera.
“2-7-4-4,” they shouted. “Leave that bill on the floor.”
There were fewer than a dozen of them, but they could be heard inside the chamber, their chants loud enough that Capitol officials closed the doors to the second-floor observation gallery.
Perhaps the loudest was Brett Cross, whose 10-year-old son Uzia Garcia was shot by an AR-15 in one of Rob’s classrooms. When the clock struck 10 p.m., several Democrats left the room and hugged him. Soon after, witnesses at the Capitol said, a Department of Public Safety officer approached with a decibel monitor, informed him he was too loud and escorted him from the building. Cross continued to chant the number on the bill as he left.
“This is just another fucking attempt to slow us down and stop us” Cross said on Twitter. “2,744 may have died tonight, but we will never stop!
“Texas screwed with the wrong parents!”
Another parent, Kimberly Matta-Rubio, who lost her 10-year-old daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Anya Rubio in the shooting, pledged to travel to the districts of House Speaker Dade Phelan, Calendar Committee Chairman Dustin Burroughs and the Select Committee on Public safety Chairman Ryan Gillen and “share Lexi’s story and the disrespect shown to the Uvalde families.”
“This is not over,” she said. “We will regroup, re-strategize and come back stronger.”
HB 2744, filed by Democratic Rep. Tracy King of Batesville, would prohibit the sale, rental, lease or giving of a semiautomatic rifle larger than .22 caliber that can accept a detachable magazine to a person under 21 — an increase from 18 years. The proposal included several exceptions, which King said he added after hearing voters’ concerns.
Opposition to the bill has not been vocal in the Legislature, but Republican leadership fiercely defends gun rights and is unwilling to move forward with anything that challenges them. Gun advocates say the measure will do little to deter crime and will only hurt law-abiding gun owners. They also argue that gun ownership is an established American right that should not be infringed upon by the government.
Since receiving a hearing last month — which itself marks a milestone in a gun-friendly legislature — HB 2744 has been left in committee and poised to be left there.
That is until Monday, when dozens of supporters, including many relatives of people killed by guns, filled the Capitol to urge lawmakers to do so. The commission was met with cheers and applause after the last-minute vote.
The shooter at Robb Elementary in Uvalde used an AR-15 rifle he bought days after he turned 18 after unsuccessfully trying to convince relatives to illegally buy him a gun. He killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Relatives of victims come to the Capitol throughout the year to urge lawmakers to raise the age, hold emotional news conferences and confront lawmakers and state officials.
Their urgency only increased over the weekend after a gunman killed eight people in Allen.
On Monday, at least two Republicans appeared shaken.
“I’m not naive enough to think that laws alone will prevent the kind of senseless violence that happens all too often in our country.” said Congressman Justin Holland, R-Rockwall, who voted to move the bill out of committee, in a statement Monday. “But after listening to many hours of testimony during this session, I am convinced that this small change in the law can serve as a significant barrier to a young person (not old enough to buy tobacco or alcohol) acquiring a specific type of semi- automatic rifle with the intention of using it in a destructive and unlawful manner.
After it became clear Tuesday afternoon that the bill was once again in jeopardy, supporters expressed their frustration. Some left signs calling for his passage outside the calendar committee meeting room. Others protested outside the office of Congressman Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, chairman of the committee that advanced the bill on Monday.
Guyen could not immediately be reached for comment on whether the commission’s report had been sent to the calendars committee or would be before the deadline.
“I am disgusted that HB 2744 will not be brought to a full House vote,” said Congressman Jarvis Johnson, a Democrat from Houston who voted in favor of the bill on Monday as a member of the House Select Committee. “For once, it looked like the Legislature listened to its constituents and did the right thing by getting this bill out of committee.”
Lawmakers could use other approaches to revive the proposal. But advocates are realistic that the measure will likely ultimately fail. Even if it passes the House — a tall order — it will still have to pass the Senate, which may be even more skeptical of the idea.
“How many more children must die before we act?” one supporter, Bishop John Ogletree, a Houston pastor, said in a statement.
Alexa Ura contributed reporting.
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