Gun reform advocates remain hopeful despite Texas House failing to advance gun control bill

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Gun reform advocates marked an initial win on Monday after a bill that would raise the age to buy assault rifle-style weapons passed the Texas legislature’s Community Safety Committee.

But the bill was left off the agenda items the Texas House floor had to vote on. The state’s House Calendars Committee failed to include it by a 10 p.m. Tuesday deadline. Since the agenda must be approved 36 hours ahead of the House chamber’s scheduled convening, the bill did not move forward.

This comes after the state faced two tragedies over the weekend, including an incident in Allen, where a 33-year-old gunman opened fire at an outlet mall, killing eight people and injuring at least seven others.

Less than two weeks earlier, a gunman in Cleveland, Texas, killed five of his neighbors after one had asked him to stop shooting his gun late in the night because an infant was trying to sleep.

The bill, HB 2744, filed by Democratic Rep. Tracy King of Batesville, would prohibit selling, renting, leasing or giving a semi-automatic rifle with a caliber than .22 that can accept a detachable magazine to a person younger than 21 years old.

More than 160 activists, including over a dozen relatives of Uvalde shooting victims, gathered at the Texas state Capitol on Monday morning as they chanted “raise the age, raise the age,” demanding the legislature act on gun reform even before the House met.

Following the rally, the House Community Safety Committee voted 8-5 to advance HB 2744 to the House floor for further discussion and debate before being voted on.

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who has been an outspoken advocate for the Uvalde families and was among those who rallied on Monday, posted a tweet celebrating after the bill passed the Committee. “Our voices are making a difference. The push to bring this bill to the House floor continues.”

Despite the bill not moving forward, Tanya Schardt still recognized how extraordinary it was for HB 2744 to actually pass the state’s Community Safety Committee. Out of the 11 members of the committee, seven are Republicans. Schardt is the director of state and federal policy for Brady, the advocacy organization for gun violence prevention.

“I think [HB 2744] getting out of committee at all, and picking up two Republican votes in that committee, shows how important the voices of advocates and survivors, and everyday Americans is, in this fight,” said Schardt.

And across the country, several states have made strides in gun reform legislation recently.

Where gun reform legislation has progressed

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of gun reform laws in April that will create universal background checks for all firearms and mandate safe storage requirements around children.

The measures carry strong punishments for violations, as gun owners can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine if a minor obtains a firearm and kills themselves or others.

That same month, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed four gun control bills into law that also raised the age for legally buying firearms from 18 to 21 and requires a longer waiting period for firearm sales (a three-day minimum) to allow for background checks.

The other two pieces of legislation strengthened Colorado’s red flag laws, allowing teachers and medical care providers to petition the court to confiscate someone’s weapons if they pose a danger to themselves or others and rolled back legal protections for gun manufacturers, making companies more liable for civil suits related to gun violence.

Washington state also banned the purchase of new assault weapons for residents as part of a three-bill gun control related package last month.

And Maryland’s state legislature passed several bills that prohibit a person from wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun in an “area for children or vulnerable individuals” such as schools, or in a “special purpose area” like restaurants and bars, and ban civilians from bringing a firearm onto someone’s property without the permission of the property’s owner just to name a few of the provisions.

Its governor is ready to sign those bills into law soon.

“It’s unfortunate though that, for every state that’s moving forward, we have a state moving back and repealing any strong gun laws that do exist in the state,” said Schardt. “In some sense, it’s almost like we’re living in two different countries.”

That latest example of that contrast can be seen in Tennessee.

Tennessee’s fight over gun reform

The southern state will hold a special legislative session on August 21st focusing on potential gun reform legislation.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has called lawmakers back for this special session to discuss “solutions to keep Tennessee communities safe and preserve the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Before Tennessee wrapped up its legislative session in April, the governor pushed an 11th hour pitch for lawmakers to pass a limited extreme risk protection order law which would allow courts and law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from people who pose an immediate risk of harm to themselves or others for up to 180 days.

Lee called on lawmakers to vote on the bill right before its legislative session adjourned, saying “we owe Tennesseans a vote” following the deadly Covenant school shooting that killed three children and three staff members in March.

“It’s so unfortunate that so often, the set of action comes after the heels of an incredibly preventable tragedy,” said Schardt. “Every day Americans should continue to be loud about the fact that they expect their elected officials to take action to prevent gun violence.”

Tennessee’s Republican leadership balked at Lee’s proposal, saying that “any red flag law is a non-starter,” while the governor maintained that his proposal was not a red flag law.

“There is broad agreement that action is needed,” said Lee in a statement announcing the special session. “And in the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to listen to Tennesseans and pursue thoughtful, practical measures that strengthen the safety of Tennesseans, preserve Second Amendment rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health.”

Lee has opened a website to solicit feedback from Tennesseans after calling for the special session.

Bipartisan political polling has shown most Tennesseans support additional gun reform that includes a version of a red flag law and gun storage laws. This sentiment is shared with most of the U.S. population who want more gun reform as well.

A recent poll conducted by Gallup also found a high rate of dissatisfaction with U.S. gun laws among Americans, reaching a new high in the past 23 years.

That’s why Schardt believes it’s important to stay loud and continue to pressure elected officials to step up on gun violence prevention.

“While it’s easy to feel really hopeless after these series of shootings, all less than a year after Uvalde [and] 10 years after Sandy Hook, there is hope,” she said. “There are things that we can do. We are not helpless. This is not normal. It is preventable. And we can take action because we should not have to live this way.”

Naina Rao

Naina Rao

Naina Rao is Reckon's daily news reporter. She formerly worked at NPR producing for Morning Edition and the Culture Desk, and has experience covering Religion, Arts & Culture, and international news. Naina is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, proficient in Malay, and is working on her Hindi.

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