The rotunda of the Texas state Capitol echoed Monday morning with pleas from more than 160 activists, among them more than a dozen relatives of Uvalde shooting victims, who gathered in Austin to demand the legislature take action on gun reform.
Monday marked the last day the Texas legislature could vote on House Bill 2744 — which would raise the age to buy assault rifle-style weapons from 18 to 21 — out of committee to be heard for further discussion.
In the morning, the protesters chanted “raise the age” and “do your job” at lawmakers as they headed to their offices. By the afternoon, the bill passed the Community Safety Committee and is now on its way to the House Calendar Committee, marking a win for the advocates.
Fifteen of those protesters in the crowd were Uvalde families who lost children in the May 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary that killed 21 students and teachers.
The legislators “don’t care about missed birthdays or empty chairs at the dinner table,” Berlinda Arreola, step-grandmother of 10-year-old Uvalde victim Amerie Jo Garza, told ABC News Monday morning. “They don’t care about Amerie’s classmates or teachers. They don’t care about the lives lost in [mass shootings in the Texas cities of] Santa Fe, El Paso, Cleveland, Sutherland Springs, or even those lost on Saturday in Allen, Texas. They share their ‘thoughts and prayers.'”
“Here we are begging for a vote on the last day to make it happen,” she said, hours before the bill passed the Community Safety Committee. “They have chosen the NRA and their own interest over their constituents over and over again. You have no right to play Russian roulette with our lives. Our children are not safe. Our families are not safe. We are not safe. Prove me wrong.”
This weekend’s mass shooting at a mall in Allen, Texas was too much to comprehend for Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, was killed in Uvalde.
“I’m so sorry I’m not strong today. Maybe that’s what y’all need to see. Because at the end of the day, I’m just a mom who wants my daughter back who doesn’t want another mom to know my pain,” said Rubio, a journalist and a mom of six, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Now that the bill has passed the Community Safety Committee, it will head to the House floor for further discussion and debate before being voted on there. No date has been set for the House to vote. If HB 2744 passes the House, it would then have to pass the Texas Senate by the end of May.
Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who has been an outspoken advocate for the Uvalde families and was among the protesters Monday, tweeted after the bill passed the Community Safety Committee, “Our voices are making a difference. The push to bring this bill to the House floor continues.”
Jerry Mata, whose 10-year-old daughter Tess was killed in Uvalde, said he jumped for joy once the bill passed the committee.
“I consider it a big step,” he told ABC News. “So now, the fight continues.”
Tess’ mom, Veronica Mata, added, “I think this was a sign from our babies, that, you know, we’re doing the right thing. We’re helping protect other children.”