AUSTIN (Nexstar) — In an overnight hearing, families of victims of the Uvalde school shooting gave tearful testimony to a Texas House panel, begging lawmakers to pass reforms they think would have stopped the state’s deadliest school shooting.
Kimberly Rubio, who lost her daughter Lexi, waited nearly 13 hours before she was able to take the witness stand in the House Committee on Community Safety hearing Tuesday. With more than 100 people signed up to testify, the hearing went until nearly 4 a.m. Wednesday.
“I arrived here today at 8 a.m. and as we waited more than 13 hours, I’m reminded of May 24 2022 when we waited hours to be told our daughter would never come home,” she said.
In her emotional testimony, Rubio told lawmakers how she replays that day in her head over and over — wondering what might have been different if Lexi had been sick that day, or if she would have pulled her out of school after the award ceremony earlier that morning.
Rubio reiterated the one thing she says she knows would have changed the outcome: if the laws in Texas would have required the gunman to be 21 years old, not 18, in order to purchase the semi-automatic weapon he used to murder 19 children and two teachers.
“No action you take we’ll bring back our daughter. But you do have the opportunity to honor Lexi’s life and legacy by voting for House Bill 2744 which will make our community safer and save lives,” she said while fighting back tears. “Our hearts may be broken but our resolve has never been stronger.”
Veronica Mata, who lost her daughter Tess, echoed Rubio’s sentiment — imploring on lawmakers in teary-eyed remarks to pass a law she believes will protect future children.
“You as leaders have a choice of what my daughter’s life will be remembered for. Will she die in vain or will her life have saved another child,” she said. “I’m begging you to please hear me out and don’t let my daughter’s murder mean nothing to you.”
A rare move for Texas lawmakers to consider tighter gun laws
Rubio, Mata and several other Uvalde families drove to Austin to testify in favor of House Bill 2744, which was written by their district’s legislator, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville.
King’s bill would make it a felony for a person to transfer a semi-automatic rifle to someone under the age of 21.
It was a first for the Republican-controlled legislature to even give a hearing to bills that would change how people are able to purchase firearms and how authorities have to report the purchases of those weapons. The Committee heard 18 different bills that also pertained to firearm safety, many of which were introduced as a direct result of the mass shooting in Uvalde.
More than 100 people signed up to testify during the House Select Committee on Community Safety, including families members of victims 2018 Santa Fe school shooting.
Uphill battle for gun regulations in GOP-led Legislature
While the families and longtime gun control advocates were encouraged that the bills were getting a hearing, each bill heard was left pending in Committee. In this session, legislation must make it out of a committee by May 8 in order to have a shot at becoming law.
While there are some options to advance a bill after that deadline, the proposal faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Legislature that has moved to loosen gun laws in previous sessions following mass shootings.
In a February exclusive sit-down interview with Nexstar, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan reiterated that he does not believe his chamber would have the votes to support any age limit restrictions on firearms.
“I don’t think the votes are in either chamber,” Phelan said. “The federal courts are actually going in a different direction, they’re actually moving the age down to 18.”
The speaker’s remarks were in reference to a Texas federal court decision related to a state law that previously banned 18 to 20 year olds in Texas from carrying handguns. U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman said the law was unconstitutional since the Second Amendment does not mention age limitations.
Supporters of the proposal point to that conservative Florida successfully raised the age limit after the Parkland mass school shooting in 2018, and the law has been held up.
Over on the Senate side, another legislator who represents Uvalde has been a leading voice in calls for tighter gun restrictions. Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, held regular press conferences with the families to unveil more than a dozen bills he filed as a direct result of the Robb Elementary school shooting last May.
Out of all the 21 bills Gutierrez filed, 13 have been referred to the committee but none have gotten a hearing or have had one scheduled.
The House committee gaveled in at 9 a.m. and discussed a handful of other bills before taking a recess for the House floor session. Lengthy floor debate, amounting nearly nine hours, delayed the committee’s return — sparking criticism from Congressional Democrats about wasting the time of families who traveled hours to wait more than half a day to testify.
The Community Safety Committee resumed at 7:20 p.m. and gaveled out just before 4 a.m.