AUSTIN, Texas – Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday pushed back on calls by Uvalde families for new gun control measures in Texas, saying that raising the minimum age to purchase weapons like the one used in the Robb Elementary School massacre would be “unconstitutional."
The 18-year-old gunman who killed 19 children and two children in a fourth-grade classroom on May 24 had legally purchased the AR-15 style rifle that investigators say fired more than 140 rounds inside the school. In the wake of the tragedy, some Uvalde parents are pressuring lawmakers to raise the minimum age in Texas to purchase similar weapons to 21 years old.
Abbott, who is up for reelection in November and has expanded gun access after previous mass shootings in Texas, said court decisions in recent months tie the hands of any effort to raise age restrictions for firearms.
“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde, as much as they may want it, it has already been ruled to be unconstitutional," Abbott told reporters at a campaign event near Dallas.
One law scholar challenged Abbott's assertion, saying the issue is not yet settled. And the group March for Our Lives criticized Abbott's comments as “patently untrue." A handful of states — including Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont and Washington — require buyers to be at least 21 instead of 18 to purchase some types of long guns.
Democrat Beto O'Rourke, who is running against Abbott and has made stronger gun control measures a centerpiece of his underdog campaign, responded by reiterating a pledge to raise the age to 21 if elected.
“Thanks to the leadership of the families in Uvalde, we are going to do it," O'Rourke tweeted.
Last week, a federal judge in Texas struck down one of Texas’ few remaining firearm restrictions, finding a law that barred adults under the age of 21 from carrying a handgun was unconstitutional. The law had been defended in court by the office of Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which has not filed an appeal since the ruling came down.
In May, a federal appeals court in California ruled that a state ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21 was unconstitutional. The ruling encouraged gun rights groups that other age-based gun bans would be overturned in courts.
Sanford Levison, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said Abbott spoke with too much certainty about lower age limits being unconstitutional.
“There is no good reason to say that with confidence," he said. “All you can say is some people think it is, some people think it isn't. But the Supreme Court has certainly not addressed the issue."
School resumes in Uvalde on Tuesday for the first time since the attack. Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed in the shooting, said she and her husband met with Abbott in early August and were told by the governor that he was not going to address raising the age to purchase firearms because it was unlikely to pass. She said he preferred to instead focus on mental health.
“We just got up and left,” Rubio said of the meeting.
Last weekend, several Uvalde families rallied with gun rights groups in front of the Texas Capitol, calling for stricter gun measures and bringing lawmakers back to pass new restrictions.
“Nothing is going to bring back my sister or the other lives lost," said Jazmin Cazares, whose 9-year-old sister was killed in the attack. “But we can keep fighting to prevent another tragedy like the one in Uvalde."
Associated Press writer Acacia Coronado contributed to this report.