AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Legislation that aims to raise the age for purchasing certain semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old advanced through a Texas House committee Monday.
House Bill 2744 passed with an 8 to 5 vote. Parents of children killed at Robb Elementary last May erupted into cheers and embraced after the vote.
“This just kind of solidifies that everyday that I would go and sit with my daughter and tell her, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ This was her telling me that we’re doing the right thing,” said Veronica Mata, who lost her daughter Tess in the Robb Elementary shooting. “We don’t want another Uvalde to happen. We don’t want another Allen to happened. It should have never happened. It should have been done a long time ago. Why hasn’t it been stopped? I don’t know why. But we’re going to continue fighting.”
Uvalde’s state representative, Democrat Tracy King, said he holds hope more Republicans will change their position before Thursday’s bill deadline.
“It’s a tremendous emotional victory for the families and for all families that have been through a tragedy like this,” he said. “It absolutely is historic that we made it this far with this bill. And you couldn’t do it without the help of all of the family members from not only here but Santa Fe, Sutherland Springs and all the other shootings that have taken place over the years.”
King told reporters outside the hearing room he was “not sure what happened” to lead to the decision to bring the bill up for a vote. He said he was grateful that Republicans Sam Harless and Justin Holland joined Democrats to pass the bill out of committee.
The bill now heads to the Calendars committee, which will decide when the bill will come up for a vote on the House floor. Time is a key factor. The House faces a deadline Thursday at midnight to give preliminary approval to legislation in order for it to have a chance to become law.
The committee vote came during a recess in the House floor proceedings, following an emotional speech by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-McKinney). Leach introduced a memorial resolution in honor of the victims of the deadly mass shooting in Allen.
“There’s a lot we don’t know, but one thing I do know is that this is happening way too much,” Leach said, speaking at the front of the chamber, with several of his fellow House members standing nearby in support.
“I don’t have the answers,” Leach continued. “I don’t have a bill in front of you. I’m not sure there are any bills in front of us this morning, this session that could have prevented this. I don’t know. But I do know that it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Leach said he believed that the House will respond “boldly, swiftly, smartly, and do everything we possibly can to address this head-on.” He then told lawmakers the story of one young shooting victim.
“His name is William,” Leach said, adding that the boy is around 5 or 6 years old and is in the hospital in critical condition. “Whenever he wakes up, of course, we’re prayerful that he recovers, and if and when he does, he’s going to find out that his mom and dad and his little sister are gone.”
After that, the chamber went quiet, as members observed a moment of silence for the shooting victims.
Then, members of the House Select Committee on Community Safety left the chamber for a meeting scheduled just this morning, where they voted on the age limit legislation.
Some family members of victims of the school shootings in Uvalde and Santa Fe were in the hearing room for the vote. Several of them, in tears, hugged representatives after the decision to pass the bill out of committee.
The language in the bill would prevent anyone under 21 from purchasing “a semiautomatic rifle that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine and that has a caliber greater than .22.”
The bill had been stalled in committee since a hearing on April 19.