Abbott says raising the age to buy an assault-style rifle is “unconstitutional” based on recent court rulings

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference at Uvalde High School on May 27, 2022. (Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

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Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.

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Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that it would be unconstitutional to increase the minimum age to buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21 years old — a key proposal Uvalde parents have called for after an 18-year-old gunned down their children’s school in May.

“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde — as much as they may want it — has already been ruled as unconstitutional,” Abbott said at a reelection campaign event in Allen.

The gunman in Uvalde bought two AR-15-style rifles days after he turned 18, the legal purchasing age in Texas, and used those weapons to kill 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Texas Democrats have asked for a special legislative session to increase the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. Families of Uvalde victims and survivors also have pushed for a three-year increase to the legal purchasing age.

Caitlyne Gonzales, who was a fourth grader at Robb Elementary the day of the massacre, stood on the steps of the Capitol last week to call for gun restrictions: “You have to be 21 to buy a case of beer, but an 18 year old bought a gun to kill kids. That does not make sense.”

Abbott at his Wednesday campaign event brought up court rulings against gun restrictions from the past three months, including a federal court in Fort Worth on Thursday that struck down a Texas law limiting adults under 21 from carrying handguns. U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman wrote that the Second Amendment does not specify limits on age.

That came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a century-old New York gun law in June that restricted concealed carry of handgun. In the last 13 years, as firearms have become more accessible in the state, Texas has had eight mass shootings.

But gun control group March for Our Lives said raising the age to buy an assault rifle is constitutional, and pointed to Rick Scott, former GOP governor in Florida, who raised the legal purchasing age in his state after the Parkland shooting.

A spokesperson for Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott in November, said that if elected, O’Rourke would work with Republicans and Democrats to raise the minimum age for purchasing an assault-style weapon.

In the days after the shooting in Uvalde, Abbott was asked if he would consider banning assault-style weapons for 18-year-olds. The governor at the time appeared hesitant.

“Ever since Texas has been a state, an 18-year-old has had the ability to buy a long gun, a rifle. Since that time, it seems like it’s only been in the past decade or two that we’ve had school shootings. For a century and a half, 18-year-olds could buy rifles and we didn’t have school shootings. But we do,” Abbott said. “Maybe we’re focusing our attention on the wrong thing.”

Abbott that day was immediately interrupted by state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who said, “Your own colleagues are telling me, calling me and telling me an 18-year-old shouldn’t have a gun. This is enough. Call us back, man.”

“Simply doing nothing is about as evil as it comes,” Gutierrez later said in June.

After seeing Abbott’s response to calls to increase the purchasing age for assault-style rifles, Brett Cross, father of Uziyah Garcia, one of the students killed in the Uvalde shooting, posted a video on Twitter saying Uvalde parents did not matter to the governor. Cross said that in a meeting with Abbott, the governor had previously told him that raising the purchasing age would not have prevented a shooting.

“That piece of shit that murdered our children legally bought that damn gun. Legally,” Cross said of the Uvalde shooter Wednesday. Addressing Abbott, he added: “You could do something about it. You’re just too chicken shit to do it.”

William Melhado contributed to this report.

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