Uvalde committee splinters over question of raising the age to buy assault weapon

The three members of a special Texas House committee charged with investigating the Uvalde mass shooting split along partisan lines Friday over the question of raising the minimum age required to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21, which the families of the Uvalde victims have been demanding in the months since the massacre.

The split is consistent with the deep partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans in Texas and nationwide when it comes to restricting gun access to try to curb gun violence in the country.

The Uvalde shooter legally bought the AR-15 style rifle used in the shooting shortly after he turned 18.

The committee members — Reps. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, and Joe Moody, D-El Paso, along with former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, a Republican — discussed in a Texas Tribune Festival panel the investigative report they released on the shooting in July, as well as policy solutions to address the various systemic failures they cited in the shooting response, ranging from increasing mental health resources, school security and law enforcement accountability.

'Change needs to happen':Uvalde families, community demand action from Abbott

But the committee members, who have maintained a united front in their effort to examine the shooting — which left 19 students and two teachers dead — strongly disagreed when the discussion Friday turned to gun policy.

“An 18-year-old was able to arm himself to the teeth in very short order with two ARs, 60 magazines, thousands of bullets, once the legal impediment of age was removed,” Moody said. “Law enforcement showed up very quickly, but the damage that was done was done before they showed up, and it was done in the horrific way."

“In this case in Uvalde, you have a young man who attempts multiple times to purchase these weapons prior to turning 18 and is thwarted at every turn. Can't get them,” Moody said. “This is a solid concrete example of our laws working but not being sufficient. What would three more years have done in terms of finding an intervention or maybe a family member speaking up about his issues as his illness continued to progress, because that's probably where he was going? Those are real world things that we can do. We should absolutely raise the age to purchase these weapons in light of this situation.”

"If we walk away from the Legislature not addressing that issue, then I think we've failed not only the community in Uvalde, but we've failed the people of Texas," Moody said. The Legislature will next convene early next year.

More:Fact-check: Is Abbott right that raising age for AR purchases is unconstitutional?

But both Republicans on the committee, Burrows and Guzman, voiced strong opposition to the idea.

“I don't see how you can do that,” Burrows said. “We have made a decision that the age of majority when your rights vest, vest at the age of 18. Whether that's voting, being drafted, in the criminal justice system, or the Second Amendment, that is the decision we've made. So I don't know how the courts or us can discriminate between the ages of 18 and 21. I know that may not be the popular sentiment, but I think it is a true impediment to doing what you're talking about.”

“If we're having a conversation about raising the age of majority from 18 to 21, you have to almost do it for everything I think in order to comply with the Constitution,” Burrows said. “Driving is a privilege. Drinking is a privilege, other things are privileges, but constitutional rights are very different.”

Guzman brought up several recent court cases, arguing that judges had struck down age restrictions for purchasing certain types of firearms as unconstitutional.

Gov. Greg Abbott also referenced those cases on the campaign trail back in August, arguing that raising the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle would be unconstitutional. PolitiFact Texas rated his statement Mostly False.

Gun control activists say that raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 to purchase an assault-style weapon is constitutional — pointing to several states, including Republican-controlled Florida, that have done so already.

The issue is the subject of several court battles. None of those cases has made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas committee on Uvalde shooting split on raising assault weapon age