Gun Safety Reforms: Taking the Lead from Student Activists

Columbine. Sandy Hook. Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Santa Fe.

The names bring a chill that is hard to shake when you realize they are all schools that have suffered from mass shootings over the past 20 years. So many of the lives of our children and our educators were snuffed out at places we have always thought of as safe—our schools.

The numbers are horrific: 144 students, educators and more have been killed and another 302 have been injured at 234 schools across the country in the past 20 years. In all over 228,000 students have experienced gun violence at schools since the shootings at Columbine in 1999. 

And the average age of a school shooter?  Sixteen years old.

I’m sure that many were appalled by these tragedies and thought it couldn’t happen here. Then just over a year ago, eight students and two teachers were killed and 13 injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in our community.

We are failing our children by not protecting them from these preventable acts of gun violence inside schools or other institutions of learning. While I offer my condolences and prayers to the victims and their loved ones, faith without works is not enough. Our country and our communities must do more by enacting sensible legislation and policies, lest we grow numb to these horrific acts while we wait and wonder when the next one will take place. 

Students are not leaders for tomorrow; they are leading right now. 

I was inspired by the young people who decided to take action and advocate for responsible gun laws and safe schools. I locked arms with these students and walked in unison with thousands of Houstonians downtown last year in the March for Our Lives Rally. I told the crowd gathered there that “this is a defining moment for our city, our state, and our country. When I look out at the crowd and see what students have done in leading this rally, it gives us a great deal of hope.”

For those of us in government, expressions of support are not enough. The next steps should be policy changes to provide school districts in our local communities and across Texas with resources to keep students and teachers safe.  

At the March for Our Lives rally, I announced the creation of the Mayor’s Commission Against Gun Violence. For the Commission, I chose 37 individuals – a diverse group that includes students, parents, physicians, law enforcement officials, gun-rights advocates, gun violence victims and members of faith-based and civil rights organizations. The Commission’s charge was to develop and propose specific recommendations to improve gun safety in our schools, neighborhoods and communities through action on the local, state and federal levels.

Mayor Sylvester Turner alongside student activists at the March For Our Lives

They went to work immediately. Within three months, the Commission submitted a number of recommendations that focused on making schools and communities safer, increasing public awareness for the safe use and storage of firearms and relying on technology to prevent campus shootings.

As we approached the 2019 Texas Legislature session, I asked the Commission to propose policy and regulatory changes we could present to the Legislature to reduce gun violence, protect students and promote safe and responsible gun ownership. I incorporated the Commission’s recommendation to the City’s legislative priorities.

We were able to work with the Legislature to win support of school safety reforms in Senate Bill 11. The bill implements multidisciplinary school safety strategies designed to prevent school violence and protect Texas children. It better prepares and equips schools to handle security threats and provide resources to support the mental health of students and staff. 

We also worked to win support for a Safe Storage program which provides $1 million for the biennium for the Texas Department of Public Safety to establish and promote a statewide safe gun storage campaign.

I have been inspired by the young people who organized to educate elected officials and the public about the need to improve school safety and effectively address gun violence issues on school campuses. This isn’t about politics. This is about the thousands of Americans who are injured or killed every year because of gun violence. This is about our children.