Two weeks

Two weeks ago, 17 people in Parkland, Florida — 14 of them students — were murdered, shot by a 19-year-old with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. 

In the hours and days that followed, the students of Stoneman Douglas High School quickly turned tragedy into action by calling on elected leaders to do something to stop mass shootings. Their determination has inspired many more across our country to speak up and speak out.

Nationwide, it seems that the tide is turning when it comes to people’s attitudes about gun violence. Following the tragedy on Valentine’s Day, Quinnipiac polled a cross-section of Americans and the results were pretty clear. Of those polled:

  • 75% want Congress to do more to address gun violence
  • 97% support universal background checks
  • 83% support a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases
  • 76% support an assault weapon ban

However, as has become the norm after a gun-related tragedy, many Republican leaders at both the state and national levels have succumbed to the extreme NRA’s influence. The head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, has made it clear that he cares more about the right of someone – even an 18-year-old – to buy an AR-15 than he does about school safety. He’s even gone as far to say that those in support of gun safety measures “don’t care about our schoolchildren. They want to make all of us less free.”  How offensive.

For some, the answer has been to increase the number of guns. For example, President Trump thinks that arming teachers is the solution. It’s not. He talks about a need for more mental health care — I agree, we need more access to care — but if he really cared about making mental health care more accessible, he would stop undermining the Affordable Care Act.

Common sense solutions that have broad support from the American people, such as universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning assault weapons like the AR-15 and raising the legal age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21 won’t threaten anyone’s freedom. They will, however, save lives.

In addition to keeping guns out of the wrong hands, we need to look for ways to intervene when a child or adolescent shows signs of destructive behavior.

In 2016, when I served on the House Select Committee for Mental Health, I learned how some Texas school districts have put mental health providers and centers on campuses and who are available 365 days a year to students, their families and school staff members.  Austin ISD, which has taken a lead on providing these services, reports incredible results, including higher graduation rates, lower suspension rates and a more positive atmosphere on the campuses served. This could be replicated across Texas if there is the funding and the political will.

Our state’s leaders must make this type of intervention a priority.

Once and for all, we must do everything we can to stop high-powered weapons from falling in the hands of those who want to cause harm and we must make it a priority to help troubled children and adolescents before it’s too late.

It is my hope that we see swift action at the federal level and that this issue carries through to the November election and on to the next legislative session. For far too many have died tragically in schools, churches, restaurants, movie theaters and other public places.  It’s up to us to have the courage and conviction to do something to stop it.