AUSTIN – As the families of Robb Elementary massacre victims pleaded for Texas lawmakers to advance gun reform in a last-minute push, the bill they had been advocating for finally moved forward.
The House Select Committee on Community Safety advanced House Bill 2744 in an 8-5 vote on Monday, the last day for a measure to pass out of a House committee. The measure would raise the minimum age to buy certain semi-automatic guns from 18 to 21.
It faces an uphill battle in the legislature, but the vote on Monday marked a victory for those advocating for sensible gun violence, especially after yet another mass shooting killed eight people in Allen on Saturday.
Following the surprise vote, photos and videos on social media showed the families celebrating their first victory in a nearly year-long fight.
“Lexi, baby, you did it. You’re so powerful. You’ve reached so many hearts,” Kimberly Mata-Rubio, the mother of Lexi, Tweeted.
Lexi, baby, you did it. You’re so powerful. You’ve reached so many hearts💛 pic.twitter.com/SBwZGiheUT— Kimberly Mata-Rubio (@kimrubio21) May 8, 2023
Brett Cross, the guardian of Uziyah Garcia, Tweeted: “Uzi, this is for you! Our 21 angels, this is for you! 1st step but WE ARE NOT DONE!!!!”
Lawmakers also posted images of families erupting in cheers and hugging in celebration.
We voted out HB 2744 to raise the age to buy semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21. The bill is now going to calendars. After months of pleading from the Uvalde families & across our state, we finally voted this bill out of committee. Texans deserve real solutions to gun violence. pic.twitter.com/CiT4WAH7SR— Rep. Vikki Goodwin (@VikkiGoodwinTX) May 8, 2023
“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,” Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said in a statement. “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.”
It was a different tone from just moments earlier when parents stood alongside Gutierrez and the Senate Democratic Caucus in a news conference and pleaded for the bill to move forward. See the press conference in the video player below.
Mata-Rubio; Berlinda Arreola, the step-grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza; Nikki Cross, the mother of Uziyah; and Javier Cazares, the father of Jackie, were among those who spoke.
They sobbed as they held pictures of their loved ones, pleaded for gun reform and addressed the committee’s chair, Rep. Ryan Guillen.
They were candid in getting their words across, saying lawmakers would be to blame for the next mass shooting.
“They don’t care about missed birthdays, or empty chairs at the dinner table, they don’t care about Amerie, her classmates or her teachers,” Arreola said.
“Shame on you as a father, shame on a lawmaker and shame on you as a human being,” Cross said to Guillen.
She said they have a small, simple ask: to raise the age limit. The Uvalde gunman had just turned 18 years old when he legally purchased an AR-15-style rifle for the shooting.
Watch below: Families of gun violence victims hold rally at Texas Capitol
Monday’s action came as another Texas community reeled from another mass shooting.
On Saturday afternoon, a 33-year-old gunman opened fire on shoppers at an Allen outlet mall, killing eight people. The gunman was shot and killed by a police officer who happened to be near the scene.
Police said they found multiple weapons at the scene, including an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun. They are investigating if the shooter expressed an interest in white supremacist ideology.
The Allen shooting happened nearly a year after the tragedy in Uvalde, when 19 students and two teachers were killed.
“We cannot let tragedies like today’s continue,” Gutierrez said on Saturday after the shooting in Allen. “We cannot allow this to be the reality for our families and loved ones.”
He added that Americans “are going to keep seeing more and more of these incidents” until commonsense gun laws are in place.
HB 2744 will move on to the House Calendars Committee to be considered for a vote on the House floor. It will need to be considered before the session concludes on May 29.