Texas state lawmakers advanced a bill on Tuesday that seeks to raise the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle to 21, just days after a mass shooting in Allen.
Two Republicans on the House Select Committee on Community Safety joined the committee’s Democrats to approve moving House Bill 2744 to the full chamber for a vote. This move is seen as a small victory for gun control advocates despite the bill being unlikely to pass the conservative Legislature and become law.
Reps. Sam Harless from Spring and Justin Holland from Rockwall, both Republicans, voted with Democrats on the last day of the bill’s deadline to move out of committee and continue through the legislative process. Their support came as a surprise, notably with Holland’s previous strong pro-Second Amendment stance.
The bill has been widely criticized by Republicans and gun rights advocates as infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding adults. Opponents of the bill have argued that if an 18-year-old is considered an adult with respect to voting, purchasing tobacco, and serving in the military, then it should entitle them to the full rights to protections granted by the U.S. Constitution.
The unexpected vote came just days after a gunman killed eight people, including several children, at a mall in Allen, Texas. Harless described his decision as “the most emotional vote” he’s ever taken, The New York Times reported. “I started crying after I made it. That means my heart told me I made the right vote,” he said.
Holland Defends Decision
Holland, who has previously advocated for permitless carry of firearms, sought to clarify his position and defend his decision in a letter in which he indicated that he was moved by recent messaging from gun control advocates.
“I do not believe in gun control, and I certainly don’t agree with the Biden administration’s many attempts to undermine our gun rights. When I voted for a bill in committee to raise the age requirement from 18 to 21 to purchase semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines whose caliber is greater than a .22, I did so in full knowledge that some people would try to mischaracterize my vote and the motivations for casting it,” Holland wrote.
Holland said that he was convinced by hours of testimony that making “this small change” might be a roadblock to a person aged between 18 and 21 who wants to buy a gun to use it in a “destructive and illegal manner.” The gunman in the Allen shooting was 34, so such a law would not have prevented that attack, which some gun control advocates have admitted.
“To be clear, I do not support a ban on the sale or possession of these types of rifles. In fact, I own several myself. Rather, I think that increasing the age requirement for purchase lessens the possibility that the weapon is misused while not undermining our fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” he added.
The Texas lawmaker had previously earned an endorsement from the National Rifle Association, which assigned him an A rating three times. He shared his letter in response to a statement by the Texas Young Republican Federation (TYRF), which criticized the bill.
Gun Rights Advocates Respond
Joacim Hernandez, chairman of TYRF, expressed the organization’s “strong opposition” to the bill, describing it as infringing on the rights of law-abiding Americans, who he says have every right to protections guaranteed by the Constitution.
“TYRF stands firmly in defense of the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans and maintains that this bill infringes upon those constitutional rights,” Hernandez said in a statement.
Hernandez said TYRF has advocated for a consistent age of adulthood to be endorsed by the Republican Party of Texas platform.
“We firmly believe that anyone who can exercise the fundamental right to vote or is considered old enough to die for their country should also enjoy all the protections our Constitution guarantees,” he added.
TYRF advocates for responsible gun ownership and safeguarding Second Amendment rights.
Gun Owners of America (GOA) described the Republican lawmakers’ vote as a compromise and the bill as a “slap in the face” to legal gun owners.
“Law-abiding citizens ages 18-20 have EVERY right to protect and defend themselves,” the organization said on Twitter. “Compromises like this are why we work incredibly hard to vet candidates’ Second Amendment beliefs before offering them our support and the support of our members.”
Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and injured a third while defending himself during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020 and was found not guilty of all charges filed in a high-profile trial, echoed the criticisms of other gun rights advocates.
He wrote on Twitter: “18 year olds can join the military. They can vote. They can get married. But you are trying to infringe on not just my rights but all 18-20 year olds gun rights.”
Meanwhile, Texas Gun Rights, a “no compromise” gun rights group in Texas, vowed to sue if the bill manages to become law.
‘Important Step’: Democrats
In a letter to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and Chairman Dustin Burrows, who chairs the House calendar committee, 21 state Democrats led by Rep. Vikki Goodwin from Travis County requested the bill be added to the General State Calendar.
“[G]etting HB 2744 voted out of Committee is an important step. Texans deserve to know the Texas Legislature at least debated these issues and is working toward solutions both for mass shootings, but also gun suicides and accidental shootings,” the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers requested that HB 2744 and other bills be brought to the floor this week.
They also lamented that another mass shooting had taken place in Texas and noted its proximity to the committee’s vote to advance the bill.
“This was a welcomed action for many, many Texans. These acts of mass violence have become much too prevalent. Too often loved ones are taken from their families in tragedies that are too immense to comprehend,” they wrote. “These horrific acts are causing death and trauma for victims, bystanders, law enforcement, first responders, doctors, extended family, and really, all of us. We can’t become numb to this.”
From The Epoch Times