As I packed for my trip to join 500 Texans and gun safety advocates in Austin, a thought kept crossing my mind, “What if something happens in my own kids’ schools when I’m gone?” I pushed the fear aside as unlikely.
Then, while I stood in a hallway at the Texas Capitol — waiting for a group of gun violence survivors from Uvalde to share their experiences with a Senator’s staffer — I learned a firearm was recovered on a campus in my kids’ school district earlier that day. A middle school student was arrested for possession of a gun and making a terroristic threat. Knowing why I was at the Capitol, my 16-year-old told me: “Use that argument.”
How is it that our children know what our lawmakers fail to see? Even my teen understands how far past the breaking point our state is. Our kids know, and they are suffering.
Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in Texas. In 2021, 501 children and teens in our state were shot and killed. Their lives ended before they really began. Many more are shot and wounded each year and will bear the physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives. Not captured in any data? The numbers of Texas children whose lives are forever changed by having a loved one shot and killed or wounded, witnessing gun violence, or being threatened by it.
In 2022, there were at least 14 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in Texas, resulting in 23 deaths and 23 injuries. So far in 2023, there have been two incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in one death.
Just a few weeks ago, a Superintendent in Rising Star, Texas left an unsecured gun in a bathroom that was discovered by a third grader. Volunteers have tracked many more incidents of guns being reported and/or recovered on school grounds, and of schools being placed in a “secure” or “lockdown” status due to the visible threat of an individual with a gun in the immediate vicinity. Beyond the incidents our volunteers are aware of through school alerts and media reports, it’s a virtual certainty that there have been many more we haven’t heard about.
In his State of the State speech last month, Gov. Greg Abbott designated school safety as one of seven emergency items this legislative session. Yet the governor’s approach is limited and only partially addresses the problem of school gun violence; our children deserve better than lawmakers who only want to beat around the bush. The truth is obvious to the overwhelming majority of Texans: our children will never be safe from gun violence until we address the easy access to guns in Texas communities.
Raising the age from 18 to 21 to purchase or possess assault weapons like AR-15s would help keep extremely lethal weapons out of the hands of 18 to 20 year olds – an age group that commits gun homicide at three times the rate of adults 21 and older. Eighty percent of Texans support this idea.
Bills filed this session, including House Bill 2477 by Representative Tracy King who represents Uvalde, would raise the age. We’ll see if lawmakers listen to their constituents this legislative session.
Extreme risk protection laws would help keep guns out of the hands of those who are a danger to themselves or others and 83 percent of Texans support this idea. A background check on every gun sale would help keep those with dangerous criminal histories from easily obtaining guns from private sellers and 86 percent of Texans support this idea.
Gun violence prevention hinges on making responsibility the bedrock of gun ownership – responsible gun owners know this. Yet lawmakers refuse to course-correct laws that make it too easy for those who intend harm to obtain a gun. Two years ago, instead of creating more guardrails in our gun laws that would keep Texans safer, they passed permitless carry to eliminate the requirement for firearms training or knowledge of laws for the carry of handguns in public.
Secure firearm storage is a critical practice that can significantly reduce the risk of guns ending up on school campuses, of child and teen firearm suicide, and of unintentional shootings by children. It can also help prevent theft of firearms that inevitably become crime guns. Yet lawmakers and Abbott have shown us that this preventative measure isn’t a priority. Over the last four years, the Texas legislature has allocated a meager $1.5 million to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s secure storage education program.
Our children deserve the opportunity to grow up, and to grow up free from the trauma that gun violence or the threat of it can inflict upon their bodies and minds. Anyone who has walked the halls of the Capitol at the same time as children and families from Uvalde can see that lawmakers are failing our children miserably, as well as the teachers who literally guard them with their own lives everyday. The trauma Texans are being forced to absorb is unbearable.
Texas legislators have the opportunity at least every two years to fix gun laws. The question this year, as ever, is “Will they?” Some legislators have been working tirelessly for years to reduce gun violence. Others are starting to come around, or may join the effort in the future. Some don’t care and never will.
But Texans will keep showing up for as long as it takes to make our children and families safer. In the faces of our loved ones, we see every day what we are fighting to protect is too precious to ever give up. If you are ready to join the fight for gun sense, text READY to 644-33.
Maritza Wong is a volunteer with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. Prior to becoming a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, Maritza served for 10 years as a PTA volunteer in Pearland ISD schools.