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In late night testimonies, relatives of Uvalde victims call on Texas lawmakers to advance gun bill

By Alejandro Serrano, The Texas Tribune

In late night testimonies, relatives of Uvalde victims call on Texas lawmakers to advance gun bill” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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With emotional testimony about their own experiences, parents of children who were killed in the Uvalde school shooting urged a Texas House committee late Tuesday to pass onto the full chamber a bill that would raise the minimum age to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles.

Families waited more than 12 hours after the House Select Committee on Community Safety first convened at about 9 a.m. to testify about their final memories with some of the 19 children and two teachers who were killed in the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary and how their lives have changed since.

At one point crying, Javier Cazares testified his daughter Jacklyn Cazares, 9, never learned to ride a bike or make it to the fifth grade or become a vet. “All that we are asking is for reasonable common sense laws,” he said.

“It is the least you can do to acknowledge the number one cause of death for the most vulnerable: our children,” said Velma Lisa Duran, whose sister, teacher Irma Garcia, was killed attempting to shield her students.

The testimony was during a hearing for House Bill 2744, from Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, who represents Uvalde, that would prohibit selling, renting, leasing or giving a semi-automatic rifle with a caliber greater than .22, that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine, to a person younger than 21 years old.

The Uvalde gunman used an AR-15 style rifle in the shooting, which he purchased within days of turning 18 – after unsuccessfully trying to persuade relatives to illegally buy him a gun.

The bill includes exceptions if the recipient of the firearm is a peace officer or a current or honorably discharged member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

King said a revised bill would add exceptions to certain temporary loans of such a firearm, for instance for shooting on the property of the owner.

Had the bill been law, King as well as some of those who testified said, the Uvalde shooter would not have been able to legally purchase his.

“Our hearts may be broken,” Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed in the shooting, told lawmakers. “But our resolve has never been stronger.”

Opponents of the measure, including a National Rifle Association representative, say it would be found unconstitutional and would unfairly target responsible owners of such guns who are between 18 and 21 years old. Others said instead of limiting who can own guns, that more armed residents — including teachers — are essential to stopping shootings in schools.

But there were far more people that showed up in support of the bill.

Several family members of victims noted that the police officers who responded to Robb Elementary later said they were afraid of confronting the gunman’s AR-15 style rifle, the key finding of a Texas Tribune investigation published in March.

The committee was still hearing testimony by quarter to midnight. Dozens of witnesses testified. Each speaker was given two minutes. Roughly 50 people who had registered to speak still hadn’t been called just after midnight.

Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, pushed back on the constitutional argument, saying the Legislature has a responsibility to figure out constitutional boundaries.

This is the first Texas Legislature session since the state’s worst school shooting in history. And after state lawmakers for more than 13 years have loosened gun regulations and made accessing firearms easier, despite eight mass shootings in the same period.

Any gun bill is sure to face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature.

Zach Despart contributed to this story.

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