Praise for GOP lawmakers who listened to Uvalde families

Second Amendment


Republican politicians who consider, let alone pass, modest gun safety proposals often pay heavy tolls with their constituents.

We saw this most poignantly in the aftermath of the May 24 Uvalde massacre. As we reflect on the anniversary of the murders of 19 children and two teachers, let’s also reflect on how little has changed.

A month after the Uvalde massacre, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents San Antonio and Uvalde, received blowback for helping craft (Cornyn) and supporting the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a wide-ranging bill that increased background checks, supported state red lag laws and cracked down on gun trafficking.

These were modest reforms that did not diminish Second Amendment rights, and yet absolutists slammed Cornyn and Gonzales. The Texas
GOP cited the vote
as one reason for its censure of Gonzales in March.

The catch is, this legislation was hardly out of the mainstream. In fact, polling suggests it wasn’t mainstream enough. As a recent University of Texas poll found, roughly
three-quarters
of respondents favor raising the purchase age of firearms and the creation of red flag laws. But we imagine a poll of Texas GOP primary voters would show different results. This is the state of our state.

Against that backdrop, Texas Republican state Reps. Sam Harless, of Spring, and Justin Holland, of Rockwall, broke ranks and voted May 8 to move House Bill 2744 out of committee. The bill would have raised the purchase age of assault-style rifles from 18 to 21. While their support moved the bill forward, it never made it to the House floor, a predictable outcome.

On cue, Harless and Holland faced extreme criticism for this vote, which followed massacres in Allen, outside Dallas, and Cleveland, outside Houston. The vote also came in response to impassioned testimony from Uvalde families. Texas Gun Owners of America, which makes the National Rifle Association look soft on firearms,
tweeted a picture
of Harless and Holland in pandemic-era masks with the text, “Two Republicans tried to help Democrats restrict young adults from their constitutional rights to self defense.”

This is how we would describe the vote: Two Republicans responded to a crisis by supporting a modest, but popular, reform that will preserve Second Amendment rights. If they can take such a vote, others can, too.

In a statement, Holland listed his history of supporting gun rights and how he does “not believe in gun control.” He voted for permitless carry, helped make Texas a Second Amendment “sanctuary state” and has earned “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association for several years — a distinction he acknowledged he might lose.

But Holland said the hours of testimony he heard convinced him the small change “might serve as a significant roadblock” to a troubled young person in acquiring a semi-automatic rifle.

“I do not support a ban on the sale or possession of these types of rifles. In fact, I own several myself,” he said. “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.”

We need a new political discussion about gun violence that focuses on solutions to reduce and prevent tragedies in Texas, where firearms were involved in the deaths of 4,613 people in 2021 and the death rate was 15 per 100,000 people,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from a death rate of
11.1 per 100,000 people in 2005.

In contrast to Holland and Harless, Rep. Dustin Burrows, the Lubbock Republican who led the Texas
House investigation
into the Robb Elementary School shooting, did not advance the bill to raise the age to the House floor. One might argue the bill’s fate was certain — the House votes were not there, and the Senate is a nonstarter — so why take the risk? Because it’s the only way to advance legislation that will save lives.

Harless and Holland showed that is possible, at least in the narrowest of ways. They should be celebrated, not primaried. But this is Texas.





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