As a Republican in the Texas Capitol, Sam Harless turned heads: He voted for a tougher gun law.
In doing so, the Houston state representative helped advance a bill in the Texas House of Representatives that would raise the purchase age for AR-style rifles like the one used by an 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde last year. The vote came just days after eight people at an outdoor mall in Dallas were killed by a 33-year-old gunman, who President Biden says used an AR-15-style weapon.
The bill has little chance of becoming law, but that didn’t stop powerful gun advocacy groups from moving in on Tuesday to quash a rare push by supporters for tougher restrictions as mass killings continue to wreak havoc. heartbreak in Texas.
He underscored how almost any attempt to toughen gun laws in Texas is ruled out in the GOP-controlled state Legislature, which in recent years has eased access to guns after other mass shootings and shows no interest in reversing course. . That includes Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who, since Saturday’s shooting in Allen, has said that mental health is the root of the problem.
That made Harless’s vote on Monday all the more remarkable.
“Every child has the right to go to school and feel safe, and every parent has the right for the child to feel safe at school,” Harless said in an interview.
Another Republican, state Rep. Justin Holland, also joined Democrats on the House Select Committee on Community Safety in voting 8-5 to advance the measure that would raise the purchase age for certain semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. years. The bill has been a priority all year for several Uvalde families whose children were among the 19 students and two teachers killed by a gunman nearly a year ago at Robb Elementary School.
Monday’s vote came unexpectedly. For weeks the bill had been stalled in committee, but when protesters packed the Capitol and chanted “Do something!” two days after the Allen shooting, the committee met to vote on the bill.
In a statement defending his vote, Holland said, “I don’t believe in gun control,” noting that he previously voted for Texas to eliminate training and background checks to carry a firearm. He also said he earned three consecutive “A” grades from the National Rifle Association, but acknowledged that he “has no idea” if he will be rated that high in the future.
He said testimony given to the committee convinced him that a law raising the purchase age could serve as a “significant barrier” to a youth acquiring certain semi-automatic weapons and causing harm.
Gun rights groups, which are rarely forced to fight back aggressively at the Texas Capitol, responded to the bill’s advance by urging their members to call lawmakers. Texas Gun Rights, one of the most outspoken groups, said Tuesday that Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three people during a protest in Wisconsin in 2020 and was later cleared of murder, joined them in opposing the bill.
Harless, who represents a heavily Republican-leaning district in suburban Houston, said he hasn’t received any pushback from other House Republicans.
“I just voted with my heart and my constituents are probably not going to be the armed groups,” Harless said.
For a decade, Nicole Golden has been a mainstay in the Texas Capitol pushing for stricter gun laws, only to see Republicans instead continue to phase out those that are in place. She called Monday’s vote “unprecedented” given the attention that had surrounded the bill.
Golden, the executive director of the Texas Gun Sense group, said the Legislature has allowed far less contentious gun bills to wither this year, including one to promote education about safe gun storage. He couldn’t remember a time before when Republicans had voted like Monday.
“We have gone to their offices to thank them,” he said. “And I think they should be thanked.”