Texas House Panel Advances Bill to Raise Age to Buy Semi-Automatic Rifles

House committee votes 8-5 to advance the bill, making it eligible for debate on the House floor

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In the wake of a mass shooting in Allen on Saturday that killed eight people and injured seven others, the Texas House Select Committee on Community Safety has voted to advance the raise-the-age bill.

House Bill 2744 was filed by Texas Rep. Tracy King (D-Batesville) whose district includes Uvalde, in February. If passed and signed into law, it would raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.

King's bill was read for the first time on March 13 and referred at that time to the House Select Committee on Safety. It was scheduled for a public hearing on April 18 and left pending on April 19 until two days after the mass shooting in Allen.

On Monday, the committee voted 8-5 to advance the bill, making it eligible for a debate on the House floor. Nikki Cross, mother of Robb Elementary shooting victim Uziyah Garcia, said the committee approval brought a small sense of relief.

"For the past five months, every Monday night after my son’s baseball game. He played from to 8 to 10. I would take him home, and I would put him to bed. I would tell him we’re coming here to fight for his brother. We would come and get here from 1 to 2 in the morning and we would sleep and get here by 9 a.m. and meet with anyone," Cross said. "It’s just exhausting. I’ve been away from my kids so much. I’m just ready to go home and tell them we did it."

Earlier in the day, relatives of Uvalde victims urged Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande) to give the bill a vote before votes could no longer be voted out of committee. Kim Rubio is the mother of Lexi Rubio, another victim who was killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde on May 24, 2022.

"Honoring her [Lexi] legacy with action. It’s my greatest responsibility. That’s why I get out of bed in the morning," Rubio said. "It makes me feel like she’s changed hearts. That people really heard our message and our story."

A similar bill in the Senate has not yet received a hearing.

The 33-year-old man who killed eight and injured seven in Allen used an AR-15 style rifle, the same type the 18-year-old gunman used in the Uvalde shooting last May that killed 19 children and two teachers.

The bill would make it illegal to intentionally or knowingly sell, rent, lease, or give or offer to sell, rent, lease, or give to a person younger than 21 years of age a semiautomatic rifle that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine and that has a caliber greater than .22.

To become a law the bill still has an uphill climb. It must first go to the House calendars committee before the Texas House and then be passed by the Texas Senate. Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland) said she has seen some 'softening' from Republicans.

"This is what can happen in this building when the people begin to really speak. It is our job to do just that. To hear them, to make sure we act," Rep. Bowers said. "The grocery store, church, at the movie theatre, at school. People just don’t feel safe."

Republican state representatives Sam Harless (R-Spring) and Justin Holland (R-Rockwall) joined Democrats on the House Select Committee on Safety, voting in favor. Rep. Holland said he did not support a ban on the sale or possession of semi-automatic rifles, but "I think increasing the age requirement for purchase lessens the possibility that the weapon is misused while not undermining our fundamental right to keep and bear arms.”

If passed by both the Texas House and Senate, it would then go to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed or vetoed. According to the Texas Tribune, Abbott said previously he didn't believe raising the age would be constitutional and House Speaker Dade Phelan said he didn't think the bill had the votes to clear the House but that he wouldn't stand in the way of a debate.

Multiple requests to reach Rep. Guillen, who voted against the bill Monday, were not returned.

The regular session of the 88th legislature ends May 29.

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