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Families of Uvalde victims give emotional testimony for hours on bill to raise assault rifle age limit

House Bill 2744 would raise the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21. Lawmakers became emotional during the testimony from parents.

DALLAS — Families of the 19 students and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde waited up to 13 hours Tuesday before sharing emotional testimony before Texas lawmakers.

The families came to support House Bill 2744 which would raise the age to buy semi-automatic rifles with a caliber over .22 from 18 years old to 21.

“I’m reminded of May 24, 2022, when we waited hours to be told our daughter would never come home,” Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed in the shooting, said. “I expressed confusion then and I’m perplexed now. Did you think we would go home?”

The Uvalde killer bought his first assault rifle the day after turning 18 after previously trying to get family members to purchase a rifle for him. He would go on to purchase a second rifle and more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition before carrying out the worst school shooting in Texas history.

Much of the families’ testimony focused less on the pros and cons of the bill and more on begging lawmakers for action to prevent the event from repeating.

“I had no idea that, ‘I love you, daddy’ would be the last words that I ever heard come out of her little mouth,” said Angel Garza, whose daughter Amerie Jo Garza was killed. 

House Select Committee on Community Safety began hearing testimony in the morning of different proposed gun bills but took a break for daily proceedings in the full House. It began again around 7:30 p.m., with HB 2744 being heard around 10:30 p.m. Families and advocates continued to speak on the bill until around 2 a.m. 

Rep. Tracy King (D – Laredo), who wrote the bill and whose children attended Robb Elementary when they were younger, closed by arguing his bill is a middle ground in gun legislation.

“I think it’s a good small step in common sense public policy," King said. “I don’t want the communities you represent to have to go through this. Some of you have already done that.”

Despite eight mass shootings in 13 years, Texas lawmakers have continued to pass measures loosening gun laws. In the last legislative session in 2021, lawmakers approved the ability for those over 21 to carry a handgun without a permit.

Previously, after the El Paso Walmart shooting where 23 people were killed and 26 were injured and the Midland-Odessa shooting where seven people were killed and 25 injured, the state required school safety plans and removed the limit on the number of armed guards at schools as well as clarifying the ability for worshipers to carry weapons.

“I don’t want you to have to identify your child’s body based on what he was wearing to school that day,” Nikki Cross, whose son Uziyah Garcia was killed, said. “I don’t come to you as a Republican or a Democrat. I just come to you as a mom, as a parent. Enough is enough, please do something.”

Polls from the Texas Politics Projects found 78% of Texans support universal background checks, 70% back raising the age to buy a gun and 66% are behind red flag laws, which advocates argue could have prevented Uvalde or the Sutherland Springs shooting where 26 people were killed and 20 more were injured.

At times during the testimony, lawmakers on the committee could be seen crying or putting their heads in their hands.

Representative Joe Moody (D – El Paso) also shared a graphic new detail of the killings that caused an emotional reaction from those in attendance.

“The attacker scooped up the blood of his victims and smeared it into a disgusting message there,” Moody said. “What he wrote in the innocent victims’ blood right next to that love birds banner was the phrase ‘lol’.”

A lobbyist for the National Rifle Association spoke against the bill arguing it would likely be deemed unconstitutional. Other states have identical laws that are currently facing legal challenges. Other speakers who opposed the bill said the focus from lawmakers should be on mental health or argued that changing gun laws would not impact violent crime.

Other bills presented Tuesday would require reporting for selling multiple rifles, change waiting periods and limit the transfer for firearms.

“You as leaders have a choice of what my daughter’s life will be remembered for,” Veronica Mata, whose daughter Tess Marie Mata was killed in Uvalde, said. “Will she die in vain or will her life have saved another child?”

The bill was left pending in committee, and the families from Uvalde continue to wait.

“We do everything to protect these guns,” Angel Garza said. “Let’s just try something to protect our children.”

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