For the first time since last year's mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas lawmakers considered several bills supporters say could reduce gun violence.
Many Uvalde victims' family members gathered at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to testify in favor of House Bill 2744, which would increase the age to buy a semiautomatic weapon from 18 to 21.
Veronica Mata, the mother of 10-year-old victim Tess Marie Mata, called on the Legislature to act.
“Tess didn’t have a choice in life or death," Mata said. "But you as leaders have a choice of what my daughter’s life will be remembered for."
Mata and the other family members waited more than 12 hours on Tuesday to testify in front of the House Select Committee on Community Safety. Some didn't get a chance to speak until the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Brett Cross lost his 10-year-old Uziyah, and told the panel he's sick of hearing lawmakers say "thoughts and prayers" to him and his family, and not pass legislation that could address gun violence.
"Your thoughts and prayers haven't done anything in the 329 days since Uziyah was shot through his stomach exiting his spine," Cross said. "Your thoughts and prayers are useless unless you have thought and prayed for legislation that you can help enact to change this."
The author of HB 2744, Democratic Rep.Tracy King of Batesville, has never introduced a bill like this before.
King acknowledged he would have voted "no" on a similar bill last session. But the shooting in Uvalde on May 24, 2022, changed his mind.
"The truth is had House Bill 2744 been law in Texas one year ago, 21 constituents of mine ... would still be alive today," King said.
The shooter in the Uvalde school massacre bought two AR-15s days after his 18th birthday.
Other gun-related bills
Other measures debated Tuesday include a pair of proposals that would require sellers to report if a person buys multiple long rifles or firearm magazines in a five-day period.
Tuesday's hearing was rare. Historically, the Texas House hasn't considered gun safety bills like these.
Rep. @moodyforelpaso shares something he says has not really been shared "outside of people who investigated the shooting." Inside the classroom the gunman entered in Robb Elementary School in #Uvalde was a white board. On one side of the board, a sign read, "lovebirds," listing... https://t.co/ayBcYI5hpn pic.twitter.com/F11cvPTXBV
— Natalie Haddad (@natalieontv) April 19, 2023
The Legislature has not passed any laws restricting guns after the recent mass shootings in Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso or Midland-Odessa.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said several of these mass shootings could have been prevented were some of these proposals in place.
Moody was also part of the House committee that investigated the police response to the Uvalde shooting.
On Tuesday, he told the House Select Committee on Community Safety he saw evidence showing the Uvalde shooter had used blood from the victims to write "LOL" on a white board.
Moody said the Legislature has wasted their time in the past on the issue of curbing gun violence.
"I stood in the House last session to talk about the massacre in El Paso — I told everyone then that this was coming to their town and, I'm sorry to say, that it did and it will," Moody said. "This is going to happen again and again if we choose to let it."
Raising the minimum age to 21 is opposed by pro-gun organizations, like the National Rifle Association.
"We represent 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who are not mass shooters," Tara Mica, a regional lobbyist for the NRA, told the panel Tuesday. "We defend the Constitution."
Mica said proposals to increase the minimum age are likely to be litigated and found unconstitutional.
The Committee will vote on the bill at a later time. However, its future is grim.
Republican lawmakers — including Gov. Greg Abbott — have said that raising the age would be unconstitutional.
In the Senate, similar bills have not had a single hearing.
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, called out Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for not allowing the bills to be heard in committee.
"We have to get something done," Gutierrez told reporters Tuesday morning. "Let's have this discussion because these families and every other family deserve it."