Texas lawmakers advance bill to raise legal age to buy rifles

Second Amendment

The bill now moves to the House Calendars Committee where it will be considered for a House floor vote.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Capitol echoed with chants from passionate mothers, grieving families and other gun safety reform supporters on Monday. Added was the decoration of signs they held, calling for what they say are “common sense” gun laws.

For months, groups of gun safety legislation supporters have gathered at the Capitol. On Monday, a House committee moved a bill forward that advocates have been pushing for.

House Bill 2744, which would raise the legal age of when one could purchase a semi-automatic rifle, passed in the Texas House Select Committee on Community Safety in an 8-5 vote.

The bill would prohibit selling, renting, leasing or giving a semi-automatic rifle with a caliber greater than .22 that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine to a person younger than 21 years old. Currently, Texans who are 18 years old can purchase a semi-automatic weapon.

While HB 2744 supporters were hopeful for this outcome, the committee’s decision came as a surprise. The bill, authored by Democratic State Rep. Tracy King, was expected to be left in committee and miss the deadline for a vote by the committee, chaired by Republican State Rep. Ryan Guillen.

On Monday morning, Guillen told reporters outside the House chamber that HB 2744 did not have the votes to advance, so he would not bring it up for a committee vote.

Shortly after on the House floor, however, State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer motioned to bring HB 2744 directly to the House floor for debate. Following the motion, Guillen instead called for a meeting of the House Select Committee. The House recessed.

HB 2744’s committee passage comes after a Monday morning press conference with Uvalde families and Democrats wanting action on gun safety legislation. 

In favor of the bill were Democratic Reps. Jarvis Johnson, Rhetta Bowers, Terry Canales, Vikki Goodwin, Joe Moody and Tracy King. Republicans who voted in favor were Reps. Sam Harless and Justin Holland.

After the bill advancement, Holland released a statement that said:

“Last session, I was proud to pass a measure that made Texas a second amendment sanctuary state. I also was an advocate for, helped pass and believe in the permitless carry of firearms for law abiding citizens. In the fall of 2021, I earned my third consecutive A rating from the NRA, and the organization endorsed my campaign. I have no idea if they will do so moving forward.

“I do not believe in gun control, and I certainly don’t agree with the Biden administration’s many attempts to undermine our gun rights. When I voted for a bill in committee to raise the age requirement from 18 to 21 to purchase semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines whose caliber is greater than a .22, I did so in full knowledge that some people would try to mischaracterize my vote and the motivations for casting it.

“I am not naïve enough to think that laws alone will prevent the type of senseless violence that occurs all too frequently in our state. But after listening to many hours of testimony over this session, I became convinced that this small change to the law might serve as a significant roadblock to a young person (not old enough to buy tobacco or alcohol) acquiring a specific type of semi-automatic rifle intent upon using it in a destructive and illegal manner. To be clear, I do not support a ban on the sale or possession of these types of rifles. In fact, I own several myself.

“Rather, I think that 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.”

Committee members who voted against the bill were Republican Reps. Ellen Troxclair, Dustin Burrows, Brooks Landgraf, Mark Dorazio and Ryan Guillen.

Cries and applause filled the hearing room.

Since the start of the session, State Sen. Roland Gutierrez has taken lead on gun safety legislation, defending families of the Uvalde Robb Elementary School and Santa Fe High School shootings.

“We can’t keep waiting for another tragedy for legislation on gun safety. Nothing can bring back the lives we’ve lost, but this will help to save lives in the future. We need to see this bill passed,” Gutierrez said. “Semiautomatic rifles, weapons of war, are being used to hurt our children, families running errands, concertgoers and grocery shoppers. If Texas Republicans aren’t going to vote to help protect our families, then they better step out of our way.”

Families of children killed in the Uvalde shooting, as well as Rep. King, have said the shooting may not have happened if the bill been law last year.

A recent University of Texas at Austin survey found a majority of Texas voters — including Republicans — support raising the minimum age to buy all guns from 18 to 21. National networks, such as Fox News, has also reported at least 80% of people support the same gun safety reform.

The Uvalde gunman used an AR-15-style rifle, which he purchased within days of turning 18. He purchased it after unsuccessfully trying to persuade relatives to illegally buy him a gun.

HB 2744 now moves to the House Calendars Committee where it will be considered for a House floor vote.

House Speaker Dade Phelan said earlier this year that he does not believe HB 2744 has the votes to pass the chamber but that he won’t stand in the way of it being debated. Gov. Greg Abbott has said the law would not be constitutional.

Rep. Burrows, one of three members of a special investigative committee that investigated the Uvalde shooting last summer and chair of the House Calendars Committee, voted against Monday’s bill advancement. This could determine when or if HB 2744 advances to the full chamber for debate and a vote.

If the bill stalls under Rep. Burrows’ calendars committee, it will miss another deadline approaching this week: All House bills that aren’t given initial approval by the full chamber by Thursday immediately face difficult odds of becoming law. There are some avenues lawmakers could try to resuscitate the proposal.

The Texas Legislature session concludes on May 29.

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