A Decade Under Their Influence
UVALDE STANDS AS THE DEADLIEST SCHOOL SHOOTING SINCE 2012, BUT THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO BE DETERRING GUN LOBBYISTS IN THE LONE STAR STATE
On May 24 2022, families across the United States watched their phones in horror as news of yet another school shooting ran across social media and national outlets. This time, tears fell for Robb Elementary, an Uvalde based primary school just west of San Antonio. For the families of the 21victims, this kind of violence and loss is immeasurable. For Texas gun lobbyists, however, it’s just another day in the office. In the last ten years, the Lone Star State has gained notoriety as the national hotspot for school shootings. The Center for Homeland Defense and Security found that out of the 540 school shootings in the country since 2012, 43 have taken place in Texas.1 Despite the public outcry for firearm reform growing exponentially, Last year saw Governor Greg Abbot sat beside NRA leader Wayne LaPierre as the former signed an extremely relaxed piece of legislation that would do away with required licenses to carry handguns in public. For progressive Texans, the governors actions are nothing out of the ordinary, tweets rallying conservatives with quotes such as “Don’t tread on Texas” are a norm for the former attorney general. For students and their parents however, Abbott’s refusal to acknowledge how the states hyper-lenient firearm policy is connected to the rise in mass shootings in the last decade, is nothing more than a constant reminder that nowhere is safe.
For Britt Page, a teacher moving into her fifth year of instruction in southeast Texas, Uvalde stands as her worst nightmare come to life. Like many educators, Page finds herself worrying on and off the clock about the wellbeing of her students. A fact that she says is made even harder as politicians continue to place profits over the well being of the people they are meant to serve. When asked how incidents like Uvalde made her feel as an educator, she had a heartbreaking answer. “I’m angry that there are people that want to hurt children and innocents because there isn’t enough supports in the schools and public to help those suffering from mental illnesses. I am scared that this will happen to my own school with my students and coworkers.”
Page’s concern about mental health support in schools is not a new one. The National Association of School Psychologists has spearheaded the conversation on funding for mental health services. According to the NCASP, the recommendation for staffing school psychologists is one professional per every 500 students, a ratio that only 25 Texas school districts have met in 2022. In 2020 alone, Texas reached closer to 2,600 students per psychologist.2 The effects of this failure echo especially loud in rural areas like Uvalde, where according to a CDC report, suicide rates tend to skyrocket.3
So how does a state covered in the blood of school children and a pronounced mental health crisis among youth rationalize a warm relationship with the countries largest gun rights company? According to spending reports from Open Secrets, Texas lawmakers have held a more than mutually beneficial relationship with the NRA.4 Even amongst the tragedy in Uvalde, and the screams of grief and desperation for change, prominent Texas lawmakers chose to make appearances at the NRA’s annual convention, held just hours away from the now police tape wrapped Robb elementary. Senator Ted Cruz, the NRA’s top recipient of donations in Texas was not swayed by protestors and activists criticizing his appearance at the event, instead doubling down on his stance that the right to bear arms is not only a constitutional right, but a fundamental ingredient in safety.5 Senator Cruz’s words were met with cheers and whistles from an enthusiastic crowd, his blame laid not on the states failures to protect school children, or the lack of funding towards mental health interventions that could identify risks before they inevitably rack up a body count, but instead on democratic leaders and gun reform activists.6
Cruz isn’t alone in the refusal to accept the states lenient firearm laws hand in senseless deaths like the ones in Uvalde. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, another politician who has benefited largely from NRA contributions throughout his career, has advocated multiple times in favor of arming educators rather than implementing any further legislation to regulate firearm sales in the state. A stance that Everytown, an American gun violence prevention organization, says will create more problems than solutions if enacted. The movement, consisting of over 8 million mayors, teachers and students, published research indicating that by arming educators, the risk of suicide would triple, with homicides by gun violence in places of education could double.7 Everytown’s research isn’t just theoretical, as accidents involving firearms held by teachers have already been reported in the United States.8 This coupled with many insurance companies refusal to cover firearms within schools, raises a question about the possibility of arming teachers despite the cry for its guaranteed success and potential by NRA backed politicians.
So where does that leave us? Everytown suggests enacting extreme risks laws, or legislation that would block individuals posing a serious risk to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm, but as we’ve already covered, Texas schools are struggling to meet even the bare minimum suggested ratio for mental health professionals in school, a fact that is even more glaring when faced with the reality that 91% of school shooters were connected to the school in which the crime took place.9 For their part, Everytown acknowledges this disparity, insisting that the first step in creating a safer environment for our school children is to ensure that the system itself is given the tools to succeed. Security upgrades, threat assessment programs and equitable schools are at the top priority for many activists engaged with the organization.
For educators like Page, this action can’t come soon enough, “I want Texas to be the shining state that I was raised to believe it to be. But this isn’t a state that is protecting and safeguarding its citizens. It is ruled by corrupt leaders, policies that protect the interests of the elite few, and is willing to risk the death of hundreds of children and school staff to keep their ‘precious guns.’ It’s beyond time for a change and I’m hoping that this upcoming election year will get in leaders that will enact positive change.”
It’s a sentiment we know all too well, and one we will continue to cry out in despair each time a tragedy occurs inside a Texas school, unless we begin the fight to remove the NRA and groups like it from the pockets of our politicians and the halls of our capitals. The time for action is now, and now action begins at the voting booth.