Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
WASHINGTON — Nearly all Texas House Republicans voted against the landmark bipartisan gun legislation Friday even as the measure was partially inspired by the the Uvalde school shooting and sponsored by Texas’ senior Republican senator, John Cornyn.
The vote took place exactly one month to the minute after the mass school shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24 that left 19 children and two teachers dead. It sailed through the chamber and is en route to President Joe Biden’s desk, where he has signaled he plans to sign.
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio broke with his party and was the lone Texas House Republican to support the legislation. The freshman lawmaker announced that decision earlier this week, citing childhood experiences of witnessing his stepfather threatening his mother with a gun.
“As a Congressman it’s my duty to pass laws that never infringe on the Constitution while protecting the lives of the innocent,” he wrote on Twitter. “In the coming days I look forward to voting YES on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”
Gonzales’ vote tracked similarly with the Cornyn position: The two Texas Republicans entertained this gun safety measures that is intended to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals, but they were not willing to go much further. Earlier in his first term, Gonzales voted against two background check bills that passed the House but never became law.
“I voted NO on two gun control measures in the House today,” he wrote in a March 11, 2021, tweet. “I am a proud supporter of the Second Amendment and will do everything I can to oppose gun grabs from the far Left.”
The bill passed less than a day after Cornyn successfully moved it through the once-intractable Senate, which has spent three decades paralyzed when it comes to passing almost any gun policy.
The bill passed the House by a 234-193 vote, with 14 Republicans joining the Democratic majority. Authored originally in the Senate by a small bipartisan group of senators that included Cornyn, the legislation focused on keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals and expanded mental health resources.
“We make decisions every day to either uphold our constitutional liberties or whittle them away,” said U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne, an Irving Republican, who voted against the bill. “While this bill has much to support, and I believe many of its supporters have good intentions, the vague provisions, concerns about due process and red flag law funding make it impossible for me to support.”
From the beginning, House Democrats signaled they would accept almost any gun policy the Senate could produce. And they delivered.
“Today, Congress has voted to pass historic gun safety reforms that will save lives and keep deadly weapons out of the hands of people who present a clear danger to their communities,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat, said in a statement. “We need to make more progress on gun safety, but today’s vote is an important step forward.”
The bill addresses what is known as “the boyfriend loophole.” Currently, federal statutes prohibit gun purchases for those convicted of committing domestic violence against spouses or partners who live together or share a child.
To close the loophole, the Senate bill will leave to the courts the contours of expanding how to define and include dating partners who commit such abuse. Conservatives previously raised concerns that an expansive definition of a partner could threaten constitutional rights. The new bill will also permit offenders to regain their gun rights if there are no further offenses over five years.
It also contains measures incentivizing red flag laws, which prevent individuals who are deemed dangerous from obtaining guns. The bill grants will go toward not just implementing red flag laws but also to courts that handle drug cases or cases involving veterans.
It also includes a 10-day window to allow local officials to scour databases for disqualifying information on first-time gun buyers under the age of 21.
Despite some high-profile GOP support, Texas Republicans mostly opposed the bill. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz joined the Republican opposition Thursday night, voting against the bill. In that chamber, the bill passed 65-33.
Join us Sept. 22-24 in person in downtown Austin for The Texas Tribune Festival and experience 100+ conversation events featuring big names you know and others you should from the worlds of politics, public policy, the media and tech — all curated by The Texas Tribune’s award-winning journalists. Buy tickets.