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Gov. Abbott says raising age to buy assault-style rifle 'unconstitutional,' based on recent court rulings

The gunman in Uvalde bought two AR-15-style rifles days after he turned 18, the legal purchasing age in Texas, and used the weapons to kill 19 students and two teach

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that it would be unconstitutional to increase the minimum age to buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21 years old — a key proposal Uvalde parents have called for after an 18-year-old gunned down their children’s school in May.

“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde — as much as they may want it — has already been ruled as unconstitutional,” Abbott said at a reelection campaign event in Allen.

The gunman in Uvalde bought two AR-15-style rifles days after he turned 18, the legal purchasing age in Texas, and used the weapons to kill 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary.

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In the aftermath of the shooting, Texas Senate Democrats have asked for a special legislative session to increase the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. Advocates call the proposal a compromise with GOP lawmakers — a three-year increase to the legal age instead of an outright ban on the style of weapon.

“Simply doing nothing is about as evil as it comes,” state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, whose district includes Uvalde, said in June.

Abbott at his Wednesday campaign event brought up court rulings from the past three months, including a federal court in Fort Worth on Thursday that struck down a Texas law limiting adults under 21 from carrying handguns. U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman wrote that the Second Amendment does not specify limits on age.

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The U.S. Supreme Court also struck down a century-old New York gun law in June that restricted concealed carry of handgun, a ruling that didn’t impact Texas. In the last 13 years, as firearms have become more accessible in the state, Texas has had eight mass shootings.

A day after the shooting in Uvalde, Abbott was asked if he would consider banning assault-style weapons for 18-year-olds. The governor at the time appeared hesitant.

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“Ever since Texas has been a state, an 18-year-old has had the ability to buy a long gun, a rifle. Since that time, it seems like it’s only been in the past decade or two that we’ve had school shootings. For a century and a half, 18-year-olds could buy rifles and we didn’t have school shootings. But we do,” Abbott said. “Maybe we’re focusing our attention on the wrong thing.”

Abbott that day was immediately interrupted by Gutierrez, who said, “Your own colleagues are telling me, calling me and telling me an 18-year-old shouldn’t have a gun. This is enough. Call us back, man.”

“Simply doing nothing is about as evil as it comes,” Gutierrez later said in June.

After seeing Abbott’s response to calls to increase the purchasing age for assault-style rifles, Brett Cross, father of Uziyah Garcia, one of the students killed in the Uvalde shooting, posted a video on Twitter saying Uvalde parents did not matter to the governor. Cross said that in a meeting with Abbott, the governor had previously told him that raising the purchasing age would not have prevented a shooting.

“That piece of (expletive ) that murdered our children legally bought that damn gun. Legally,” Cross said of the Uvalde shooter Wednesday. Addressing Abbott, he added: “You could do something about it. You’re just too chicken (expletive)   to do it.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

In response to the Texas Tribune article, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner responded, saying he disagrees that it's unconstitutional.

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