By ROYCE WEST
Taken from literature, it’s arguable that the real Nero fiddled while Rome was aflame. But to fiddle can also be defined as being effectively idle, or oblivious to things occurring around you. Either description would accurately depict how some politicians have abdicated their duties to protect the people they were elected to serve.
In less than a month, gunfire from military style rifles have claimed lives at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, in an Uvalde elementary school and then inside a Tulsa, Oklahoma, doctor’s office.
Depending on who’s counting, as of June 8, there had been anywhere from 250 to 295 mass shootings across the U.S. in 2022. Mass shootings are defined as injuries to four or more people. The Washington Post reported 38 mass shootings nationally between May 24 and June 8. The Uvalde rampage was the 27th school shooting this year.
There’s been six fatal mass shootings in Texas over the last seven years. With Uvalde, two have taken place at schools. Robb Elementary is now the site of the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, sadly surpassed only by Sandy Hook Elementary. But already, some have settled comfortably into past templates of lumping blame for shootings and killings on mental illnesses, while not pointing to the instrument that’s been pointed at too many victims: Guns!
In grappling with the impact of gun violence, I’ve experienced a gamut of emotions. Yes, I support 2nd Amendment rights, but I’m saddened by the continued, senseless loss of lives. I’m frustrated by deflective measures taken by policymakers under the guise of preventing gun violence. I grieve with family after family that’s had to bury loved ones. I’m furious that common-sense efforts that could at least slow the frequency of mass shootings are avoided by too many in positions of authority.
Following the fatal shooting at Santa Fe High, [Texas] in 2018, special Senate and House committees on School Safety were formed leading up to the 2019 Legislative Session. Gov. Greg Abbott toured the state to highlight his report and recommendations; among them, a “red flag” law that would temporarily suspend the ability of potentially dangerous individuals to possess or purchase firearms. However, the measure was pronounced “DOA” in the Senate by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
The lieutenant governor made public his thoughts about addressing person-to-person sales of firearms that currently fall outside federal instant background check requirements for licensed gun dealers. That proposal too, faded under the pressure of gun rights advocates. But during the 2021 Legislative Session, my colleagues, with unequivocal Executive Branch support, triumphantly took several steps in the other direction, passing permitless carry legislation that removed both licensing and training requirements for gun buyers.
Among several bills approved last year, one classified firearm and ammunition sellers as essential businesses which can remain open during declared state emergencies and are not subject to Executive Orders issued by the governor. Another bill prohibits state and local agencies from enforcing certain new federal gun regulations related to gun registration, licensing or confiscation that is not consistent with Texas’ laws. Yet another side skirts federal laws that prohibit the use of silencers, in part by branding some as “suppressors” that are manufactured in Texas. I vividly recall my colleagues snickering their way through passage of the bill on the Senate floor.
I was appointed to the Senate Special Committee to Protect all Texans by the lieutenant governor. The committee is tasked with studying school safety, mental health, social media, police training and firearm safety. Perhaps under firearm safety, attention may be paid to safe gun storage, due to the number of children who are injured, sometimes fatally, because of unsecured weapons they find at home. I believe that the dialogue should also include assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
We can debate making schools safer by limiting access points and the use of surveillance cameras and placing more uniformed officers on school campuses. But my discussion with several Dallas County school districts included that those resources require ongoing funding; much more than provided by a one-time grant and $9.72, per-student, yearly allotment increase approved in 2019. Video security systems must be maintained and upgraded as new technologies emerge. And law enforcement agencies already struggle to hire and retain officers. But notably, the districts unanimously rejected the idea of arming teachers as a solution.
After years, even decades of partisan congressional gridlock on the topic of gun control, there may be progress toward a compromise bill that will at least include red flag language. Meanwhile, America needs to reframe its dialogue regarding guns as a means of self-defense. Stories about citizens protecting themselves in their homes don’t often make headlines. The slaughter of 21 people at an elementary school does. Guns are used to kill!
Sen. Royce Barry West is a member of the Texas Senate and has represented the Dallas-based 23rd District since 1992. He serves on the Senate Committees on Finance, Transportation, Education, Higher Education, and the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting. He can be reached through https://www.senate.texas.gov.