Uvalde Families Plead for Languishing Texas Gun Bills

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Parents whose children were killed in the Robb Elementary School massacre made sobbing pleads for stricter gun laws before legislators early Wednesday on languishing proposals that appeared headed to stall in the face of a Republican majority.

The emotional late-night hearing -- which started Tuesday morning and stretched past midnight -- underlined both the sustained anger by some Uvalde families nearly a year after the shooting and the continued GOP opposition in Texas to passing any new restrictions.

The meeting of a state House committee was significant because it marked the first time Texas lawmakers have given any proposed gun restrictions a hearing since the May 2022 shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers. Much of the debate centered on a proposal that would raise the age to purchase semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old, which Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has opposed.

"Tess didn't have a choice in life and death," said Veronica Mata, referring to her 10-year-old daughter who was among those killed in the Uvalde classroom. "But you as lawmakers have a choice in what her life will be remembered for."

The meeting also came amid another series of mass shootings that have shaken the U.S. that have reopened debates over gun violence elsewhere. In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order last week strengthening background checks for gun purchases after a gunman killed three children and three adults at a private elementary school.

At the same time, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee on Tuesday sent Lee a bill that would further protect gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits.

Some Uvalde parents scolded a state House panel for making them wait all day for what was potentially their only chance to testify this year.

"I'm perplexed now. Did you think we would go home?" said Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed in the shooting.

Gun rights supporters also sat in the room, including at least one man legally carrying a holstered handgun. Another was Stephen Willeford, who disrupted the 2017 church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 people dead by confronting the gunman with his own rifle.

He said a bill that would raise the age to purchase semiautomatic -- like the kind used in the Uvalde shooting -- would infringe on the rights of younger gun owners. A representative from the National Rifle Association echoed that statement.

"We represent 18, 19 and 20-year-olds who are not mass shooters, we defend the constitutional rights," NRA lobbyist Tara Mica said. "Realistically, a raise the age bill is going to be litigated and found unconstitutional."

The anniversary of the shooting is May 24.

That is just days before the Texas Legislature is scheduled to adjourn after a session in which dozens of proposals filed by Democrats to tighten gun laws have gone nowhere, including a bill to add reporting requirements during the sale of multiple firearms.

For years in Texas, Republicans have waved aside efforts to tighten gun laws after mass shootings, and even expanded gun rights after the 2019 attack on a Walmart in El Paso.

After the Uvalde shooting, Abbott told victims' families he would not support their calls for gun safety legislation. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, later said proposals to raise the minimum required age for certain firearms and other gun measures did not have the votes to pass.

Republicans have instead focused on additional mental health services in Texas and increasing school security.

Still, family and friends of Uvalde victims have returned to the Texas Capitol on multiple occasions to protest and meet with lawmakers. They have also called for more police accountability after hundreds of law enforcement officers on the scene waited more than an hour to breach the fourth-grade classroom and confront the shooter.