Committee hears testimony on King’s raise-the-age bill

A Texas House committee on Tuesday listened to about five hours of testimony in connection with legislation long sought by families of Robb Elementary victims that would increase the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21.

State Rep. Tracy O. King of Uvalde, in introducing House Bill 2744, told fellow members of the Community Safety Committee that prior to the Robb tragedy, he could not have supported a raise-the-age bill, but May 24 changed his life. 

“It changed everybody in Uvalde’s life and it shattered the lives of  21 families … and the truth is that had House Bill 2744 been the law in the state of Texas one year ago, 21 constituents of mine, plus the husband [Joe Garcia was the husband of slain teacher Irma Garcia] – probably, two heroic teachers, 19 innocent children would still be alive today,” King said.

“I’ve always believed that if somebody wanted to do that kind of evil, they’d find a way to do it. They’d steal a gun from their parents or from their neighbors or they’d get an alternative weapon or something like that,” King continued. “And we’ve seen that in lots of shootings all over the United States and the world for that matter. But for some reason … this one wanted it bought legally.”

King added that the majority of people he has talked with about his legislation, including NRA members, farmers and ranchers, have been very candid. “They got as many guns as I do, almost. And they say, you know, this isn’t that much, Tracy, this isn’t that much to ask.”

King’s measure applies to semi-automatic rifles with a detachable magazine in a caliber larger than .22. It includes exceptions for peace officers, military members and anyone who has been honorably discharged from the armed forces. There is also a provision that allows temporary loans of the weapons to Texans under the age of 18 for participation in sporting events at shooting ranges and on hunting trips.

Kimberly Mata-Rubio, who had waited for more than 13 hours with her husband, Felix, and other families from Uvalde to provide testimony, asked committee members if they had watched live coverage from Robb on May 24 and wondered what they could have done to prevent the tragedy. 

“Do you look at images of children running for their life and think ‘What if we had enacted stricter gun laws? Do you consider the children still inside? Those like our daughter who would never emerge? Did you imagine what it would feel like to bury your child?’

“Sit with that image as we do, because only when you imagine will you as Texas lawmakers take necessary action, including voting for House Bill 2744. No action you take will bring back our daughter, but you have the opportunity to honor Lexi’s life and legacy … Our hearts are broken, but our resolve has never been stronger – 21 for 21 – let’s raise the age,” Rubio said.

Christina Zamora, mother of 10-year-old Mayah Zamora who was shot six times and spent two months in University Hospital in San Antonio, testified that placing weapons “with the power to injure and kill so many in the hands of a young man is a huge responsibility.” She said it was too much for teenagers whose minds are not fully developed and who still need guidance on the big and complicated issues of life.

“I am the mother of a son in his early 20s and he is a wonderful young man, but there is no shame in saying that he still needs – or turns to his parents for some issues, and we are happy to provide that support,” Zamora said, adding that not all young men have people in their lives to whom they can turn.

“For everyone’s sake, raising the age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of these types of assault weapons is common sense. What happened to my daughter’s beautiful little body and her friends and teachers should never, ever have happened in the first place,” Zamora ended.

Javier Cazares, whose daughter Jackie died as a result of the Robb shooting, told the committee the families were not there to take anyone’s guns, that he was gun owner, “a believer in the Second Amendment and a concealed carrier.”

“I don’t want you to see what I saw. I saw my 9-year-old daughter draped in a white sheet cold and alone in an operating room. I don’t want any of y’all to see that. We need to change laws. Please have an open mind and please pass this law,” Cazares said tearfully.

The mother of Robb shooting victim Tess Mata said it was her role as a parent to protect her child, and it was the state’s responsibility to protect communities.

“I failed as a parent for not protecting my daughter that day, and you representatives are failing these communities in our state by choosing to use your own beliefs and personal gains to continue to make mistakes,” Veronica Mata told the committee.

NRA representative Tara Mica spoke against the bill, saying she did not “parachute in from Washington” but lives in Texas. “We’re not mass shooters. We defend the Constitution. Realistically, a raise-the-age bill is likely to be litigated and found unconstitutional.”

The next witness, Richard Hayes representing himself in speaking against the bill, said he shared many of the same concerns as the NRA in that the proposed bill would not withstand the constitutional scrutiny that had already been confirmed in similar cases.

Committee member Joe Moody questioned the specific court that Hayes was citing. He replied that it was Andrews v McCraw in the Northern District of Texas. 

Moody responded that he and his colleagues in the House had often passed legislation that is the equivalent of a trial balloon to establish where the battle lines are effectively drawn. 

“My point is, there are lots of things that we do here. In fact, we have … passed up here that we know is against current case law from the United States Supreme Court. But we do it because we think we can test it and turn it.” 

Michelle Mostert also signed up to speak against the bill, saying she didn’t believe that legislation fixing the age at 21 for people to buy semi-automatic weapons would have prevented Uvalde.

“You know, there’s law abiding people that are 18, 19, 20 years old, that aren’t going to be able to use it [semi-automatic weapons] for competition or, or shooting hogs or whatever, but … my point is it is not gonna stop it. I mean, we have the death penalty to stop murder. We have all these laws, but it doesn’t stop it. It’s just too bad. You know, criminals are criminals because they don’t follow law.” 

Moody pounced, saying that if laws don’t matter and if people don’t listen to laws, why not abolish the penal code altogether. The representative said we have laws for two reasons: They create a “speed bump deterrent” and in the event the bad person still does the bad thing, they have punitive value.

Moody said people who have bad intentions live in the same world as the rest of us, and the Robb attacker was no different. He had been thwarted multiple times from buying a gun before his 18th birthday and would have continued to be stymied had the legal limit been 21.

Mostert injected that “he [killer] would have found a way.”

“There’s not many people up here that have looked at this case [Robb] more than me. Mr. [Dustin] Burrows is one, Mr. King is another,” Moody said. The El Paso lawmaker and Burrows had been part of the House committee that investigated the shooting. He insisted there was zero percent chance that the Robb shooter would have acquired a weapon illegally, because he had run into a law that was working and couldn’t figure out a way to circumvent it. 

 “So understand that they – criminals – don’t operate in a world that’s separate from you and me. They operate in the same world and have the same barriers. So we have speed bumps and deterrence. Guess what? Those work.”

Moody also revealed a horrific message that the Robb shooter left on a white board in room 111. On one side of the board was a list of “puppy love couples.” The other side was blank except for the letters “LOL” (laughing out loud) that had been drawn with the blood of the victims. “That’s what he thought of. That’s what he thought about what he had done. His message to us wasn’t anger, hatred, just something flippant. He celebrated that he could do what he did. That’s his critique of us because we let this happen,” Moody said.

The House committee, which is controlled by Republicans, did not take a vote on the measure Tuesday. Even if it advances there, House Speaker Dade Phelan has said there are not enough votes for passage.