Zavala County Joins Call for Special Session on Assault Rifles

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On Wednesday, the commissioners court of Zavala County—the 11,000-person county immediately south of Uvalde—passed a resolution urging Republican Governor Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session to consider increasing the age of purchase for assault-style rifles from 18 to 21. 

“You gotta start somewhere. … If that’s just a little piece of the puzzle, well so be it, but we gotta do something; everybody’s gotta do their part to minimize situations like we had in Uvalde,” said Zavala County Commissioner Joe Cruz, reached by phone. Zavala does not livestream its meetings, but Cruz and the county judge’s secretary both confirmed the resolution’s passage. 

The Zavala County vote came 78 days after an 18-year-old man—with a history of threatening online behavior—legally purchased two AR-style rifles in Uvalde and proceeded to carry out the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. The five most deadly school shootings in the United States were executed by attackers under 21 years old. Raising the age for buying mass-murder machines to that required for buying cigarettes is now a top-of-mind demand for the country’s gun control movement.

In the Uvalde shooting’s immediate aftermath, many state Democrats called for Governor Abbott to convene a special legislative session to address gun control. Abbott has rebuffed the demand, instead initiating committees to review the shooting and develop proposals for the next regular legislative session, to begin in January. Demands for a special session quieted as attention fixated on the investigation of a state House committee, which released a damning report focused on the “lackadaisical” response from law enforcement at the shooting scene. 

In passing, the House report drily noted: “There was no legal impediment to the attacker buying two AR-15-style rifles, 60 magazines, and over 2,000 rounds of ammunition when he turned 18. The ATF was not required to notify the local sheriff of the multiple purchases.”

The Robb Elementary memorial in Uvalde in July Gus Bova

In Uvalde, one local official has spearheaded the effort to keep the call for a special legislative session to raise the rifle purchasing age alive: County Commissioner Ronnie Garza. Last month, Garza led the effort to pass a unanimous resolution to that effect at the Uvalde County-level, before distributing the resolution to Uvalde City Council and the Uvalde school board, both of which passed the measures last month, too. Garza then sent the resolution to Cruz at Zavala County; his next target, he said, is Dimmit County to the south. 

Garza said he’s pessimistic that Abbott will heed the calls for a special session, but “as an elected official and lifetime member of this community, I have to do something,” Garza said. If nothing else, he hopes the pressure will help “move the needle” come January.

Earlier this month, Abbott met with some Uvalde family members and the schoolteacher who survived the shooting, Arnulfo Reyes. After speaking to the Governor, Reyes said he “felt like it was just a political thing.” Reyes also said he asked Abbott about raising the rifle purchasing age, to which “[Abbott] said that they had found it unconstitutional to change the age or something like that.” 

The Uvalde tragedy continues to rile the small South Texas city, which has seen a surge in activism and voter registration, and to animate the ongoing Texas gubernatorial race: Earlier this week, Democrat Beto O’Rourke referred to a heckler, who’d laughed during his description of the carnage that assault-style rifles wreak, as a “motherfucker.”

Reached by phone, Democratic state Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said he intends to file a bill to raise the purchasing age to 21 next legislative session. Staff for Democratic state Representative Tracy King, who also represents Uvalde, did not immediately respond to a request for comment; neither did a spokesperson for the governor.

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