Austin City Council passes resolution to try and raise age to purchase an AR-15

Morgan Severson, News Reporter

Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday that directs the city manager to “explore every option” to reduce or prohibit the sale of AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles to individuals under 21 — a ban that would be illegal under Texas state law. 

Texas law states that a municipality can not adapt state regulations on the sale and possession of firearms. However, the city council’s resolution directs city manager Spencer Cronk to present members with a “viable option” for the ban by July 26, if he can find one. Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter, the resolution’s sponsor, said she had some ideas of what Cronk might suggest to create the ban, but was not prepared to share them with The Daily Texan. 

“I’m well aware of the law,” Alter said during Thursday’s council meeting. “We find ways all the time to push the envelope, and I would say that we have to push the envelope here. We have a responsibility.” 

The resolution follows several recent mass shootings around the country involving semi-automatic weapons, such as those in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. Both perpetrators in these shootings were 18-year-olds and legally purchased AR-15s. Alter said a state law increasing the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 would be more effective, but the passage of a ban in Austin could cause other cities to follow suit. 

“There (are) limits to what we can do, but any time that someone is slowed down from purchasing an AR-15, in my mind, helps us to keep the community safe,” Alter said. 

City council member Mackenzie Kelly, the sole vote against the resolution, said the city is risking a lawsuit from Texas’ attorney general if it passes the ban.

“We have a finite amount of resources available to us in the form of city staff and their time,” Kelly said during Thursday’s council meeting. “Nothing in this item keeps residents of Austin from traveling to Cedar Park, Leander or Round Rock to purchase a weapon.” 

City council members also passed a resolution “urging the Biden Administration, Congress and the State of Texas to take action to reduce gun violence” and to raise the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 from 18 to 21

David DeMatthews, an associate professor in the department of educational leadership and policy, recently co-authored an editorial advocating for more mental health support in schools and “common sense” gun control in Texas. DeMatthews said raising the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 is a good step toward protecting lives, but he believes change can only come from the state and federal levels.

“As much as possible, the city needs to advocate for state policy changes,” DeMatthews said. “(But Austin is) not in a very strong position, in my opinion, to make change just because obviously, other cities and counties don’t have to adhere to that.”