AUSTIN, Texas — State lawmakers are busy pre-filing hundreds of bills ahead of the next legislative session. Unsurprisingly, a topic that gets a lot of attention is firearms.
What do you want to know
- The subject of firearms is getting a lot of attention just before the next legislative session
- Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, drafted Bill 129
- HB 129 would raise the age to own a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21
Five years ago, a gunman opened fire on a church in Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people. Two years later, a gunman killed 23 Texans at a Walmart in El Paso. And last summer, another attacker killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. He bought two semi-automatic rifles when he was 18.
That’s why Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, drafted House Bill 129. It would raise the age to own a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21.
“It’s something that’s been happening for many years because of the way the laws are here,” Rep. Ortega said. “But with the most recent tragedies, it’s something where, as a representative of the state of this community, I feel compelled to try to do something to prevent this kind of violence.”
Rep. Ortega, who hoped for change after the El Paso shooting, said the last legislative session was “difficult.” She said that after the Walmart shooting, the governor promised El Pasoans there would be reform. Instead, during the last legislative session, gun laws became even more lax with the passage of the law on transport without a permit.
“I have had conversations with state leaders. I thought at least one common sense law dealing with gun reform was universal background checks because it has such a high approval rating in the state of Texas,” she said. . “And I spoke to my colleagues. I spoke to House leaders to see if I could bring this bill to the House for public debate. They would not move; they didn’t give it to me. And so it was extremely disappointing to see that you were promised something, and it just isn’t happening. But again, I’m a Democrat and our state of Texas is Republican controlled. And so they have the upper hand, and they are the ones who make the decisions. And unless they agree on something like that, we’re going out.
Wes Virdell, Texas state director for Gun Owners of America, thinks adults 18 and older should be able to carry a semi-automatic rifle.
“If you are 18, you can vote… You can join the army,” he said. “We obviously recognized that this is the age of adulthood. And so therefore we believe that 18 to 20 should also be allowed to own a semi-automatic firearm.
Another of Rep. Ortega’s bills for the next legislative session, House Bill 155, would require background checks for private firearm sales and transfers. Currently, only authorized dealers are required to conduct background checks.
“Anyone who buys a firearm from a private seller off Craigslist, or anyone who is not a federally licensed gun dealer, is not subject to a background check in Texas,” a said Allison Anderman, senior attorney and director of local policy. for the Giffords Center for Gun Violence Prevention. “This means that someone who is prohibited by law from buying or owning firearms can do so very easily. So requiring that there be a background check when buying any firearm enforces the laws we already have in place and ensures that dangerous people cannot easily acquire firearms.
Virdell has a different view.
“We believe that when you have to get permission from the government to sell a gun from one person to another, we believe that’s a violation of your rights,” Virdell said. “I would say background checks are ineffective and they don’t stop people from doing bad things.”
House Bill 284, drafted by Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, would require reporting multiple sales or transfers of semi-automatic rifles within five consecutive business days to the county sheriff.
“We just want to make our community safer,” she said. “And there are laws that we can pass – common sense laws – that would be helpful. And I think we all agree that we should be able to send our kids to school and not have to worry about a mass shooting in the school. We should be able to go to church, grocery stores, and parks without having this constant threat. I just feel like we’ve gone so far in one direction by giving so many allowances to people who have guns so they can carry them anywhere. And that can be intimidating for those of us who don’t really want to feel like you have to be armed at all times to be safe.
Rep. Goodwin said local law enforcement usually knows their community well and can dig if something goes wrong.
“Buying multiple guns at once can be an indicator, an indicator of gun trafficking, or that someone is hoarding an arsenal with the intent of committing a mass shooting,” Anderman said. “So just alerting authorities so they can investigate and make sure there’s nothing wrong, again, is good for public safety.”
Neither Rep. Goodwin nor Rep. Ortega are sure they have Republican support.
“I think it’s a little too soon, but honestly, I think it would be very, very difficult for a Republican on Capitol Hill to support this kind of legislation,” Rep. Ortega said. “But that doesn’t stop me from filing bills.”
Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, said in a statement to Spectrum News that there is an urgent need for change.
“While we can’t predict what the Texas Legislature will do this session, we know that public consensus promotes stronger public safety and that we have champions on Capitol Hill ready to fight for us,” Golden wrote.
Virdell believes that if any of these laws are passed, they won’t be effective anyway.
“That’s the problem is that people who want to do bad things don’t care about the law anyway. So it doesn’t matter what law we create. If they want to do something bad, they can do it with cars, hammers, knives, fists,” he said.
Last year, when lawmakers passed license-free carry, it opened the door for adults over 21 to carry a handgun without a license or training. Virdell wants this law to be extended to 18-20 year olds.
In the wake of the Uvalde tragedy, many Republicans focused on expanding mental health care resources statewide, instead of passing gun legislation.
“They make the issue of mental illness so they don’t have to talk about guns,” Anderman said. “But the reality is that America doesn’t have higher rates of people with mental illness or dangerous mental illness than other peer countries, and yet we have astronomically higher rates of gun violence. We we have the largest number of privately owned firearms in the world, within a mile. And as a result we have the greatest gun violence in the world outside of war zones. So the problem is not the mental illness is guns.
The legislative session begins in January.
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