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A year after Uvalde, dim prospects for gun reforms in Texas

  • This is Texas's first legislative session since the Uvalde shooting
  • A bill to raise the age for certain firearm purchases did not advance
  • Lawmakers are expected to allocate more money on school safety

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(NewsNation) — After the May 2022 multi-victim shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, something surprising happened.

The U.S. Congress — which had long been deadlocked on matters of gun policy — worked along bipartisan lines to pass a bill that enacted a series of reforms, including expanding background checks for buyers under the age of 21, investing more in mental health care and making it harder for perpetrators of domestic violence to obtain firearms.

But in Texas, which is currently in its first legislative session since the Uvalde tragedy, state-level reforms around gun policy have faced a much steeper climb.

In early May, it seemed like the legislature was poised for a breakthrough when a key House committee passed HB 2744, a bill that would raise the age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. The bill passed with the support of two Republican state representatives who helped pull it across the finish line in an 8-5 vote.

Nicole Golden, the executive director of the gun policy reform group Texas Gun Sense, worked with the coalition that lobbied in favor of the bill. That coalition included survivors of gun violence and the families of Uvalde victims.

“[It] was very emotional, lots of people crying and hugging and definitely a milestone achievement and a historic moment,” she said.

Yet the bill died after it missed the deadline for being scheduled for a floor vote.

“State leaders did not prioritize that bill, in fact, blocked it from being given a proper [and] a full house vote,” Golden said.

Derek Cohen, Vice President of Policy at the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, said that the bill was voted on too late in the year — the legislative session ends at the end of the month — to have a realistic chance of moving through both chambers.

“By the time this was actually voted [on] it was still technically legally able to be heard, but procedurally it was simply impossible given the nature of the bill,” he said, suggesting that the vote to get it out of committee was more performative than substantive.

Cohen described HB 2744 as a “maximalist” bill that wasn’t paired with a more moderate proposal that advocates could have fallen back on — like a bill that would have created a waiting period for purchasers below the age of 21.

The House did pass a more modest bill that would require the state to share more information on Texans’ mental health with the federal background check system; it is expected that the bill will be signed into law. But the bill would not create a “red flag” system, like the one implemented in Florida after the Parkland shooting, that would allow the state to bar firearms from people deemed a risk.

While no new restrictions on guns are expected to be signed into law this session, the body is expected to pass legislation dealing with school safety.

In late April, the state house passed HB3, a bill that would, among other things, install panic buttons in classrooms and hire armed security officers for every school.

The legislation had bipartisan support, sailing through the body along a 119 to 25 vote. Meanwhile, other bills that are moving through the legislature would implement additional measures such as establishing an office dedicated to school safety within the Texas Education Agency.

The Texas Senate passed a version of the bill in late May that would remove the requirement for armed security in every school and reduced the overall funding provided for school safety.

As of this writing, the bills are still being debated and various provisions may be added or deleted.

But both Cohen and Golden believe that some form of school safety legislation will end up being implemented; they are more pessimistic about the possibility of any significant gun-related bills passing any time soon.

Nonetheless, Golden viewed getting HB2744 out of a committee as a significant victory.

“I would call the victory of getting that committee vote significant. And it is not to be underestimated in any way and the power of advocates to make that happen,” she said.

She pointed to the two Republicans who voted for the bill as a sign of changing times.

“There may be some cracks developing in the Republican Party’s stance and action on this issue because we did have a couple of members vote for gun safety this session,’ she said. “So maybe they’re responding to what they’re hearing from the public and from their constituents who are all outraged that this keeps happening again and again.”


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