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Police, parents, survivors push for gun safety in the home following fatal school shootings

HOUSTON – According to a database compiled by KPRC 2’s parent company, Graham Media Group, there have been at least 618 fatal shootings on school campuses since the 1960s.

Sixty-eight of those shootings were in Texas, specifically 17 in the Houston area. Sadly, 2020 was barely underway when the death of 19-year-old Cesar Cortes, a student at Bellaire High School, was added to this list.

“It changes the way you look at everything,” said Flo Rice, who was a substitute teacher at Santa Fe High School in 2018. “That thing that you can’t comprehend happening, it can happen.”

Rice said she was working as a substitute teacher the day when officials said a 17-year old student killed 8 students, two educators and wounded more than a dozen others during a shooting rampage at Santa Fe High School. She said her recovery is far from over.

“After being shot in both legs, I’m getting around better. I’m still in physical therapy,” Rice said. “My PTSD, that’s a different story, that’s something that’s day-by-day.”

Rice and her husband, Scott Rice, have been instrumental in pushing for tougher laws regarding school security. The couple was a driving force behind the recently passed state legislation, which now requires schools to provide safety training to substitute teachers, as well as making sure these educators have access to communication devices and other materials needed to respond to an emergency on campus.

“The two of us can’t go out and enjoy dinner anywhere, can’t go to the movies. The movies are a horrible place to go,” Scott Rice said.

The data analyzed by Graham shows 56% of fatal school shootings happened at high schools. However, the data also shows school shootings have no boundaries and occur at every educational level, including universities and vocational schools.

“Every time I hear, it’s heart-breaking. These schools, they think this cannot happen,” Flo Rice said.

Campus security is only part of this debate, the other side focuses on gun safety in the home.

“When a weapon is found on campus, how often is it that, that weapon comes from a student’s home?” asked Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.

“The overwhelming majority, it does come from the home,” said Paul Cordova, police chief at Houston Independent School District.

Cordova said cutting down on gun violence in schools can begin at home. He urges parents, grandparents or anyone who has a child in the home to keep their guns out of the hands of children.

“Some kids say, ‘Well, I just have it for my personal protection.' Others want to show off to their friends what they have,” Cordova said. “It’s not always a malicious reason. It may just be juvenile, adolescent behavior, but it can have deadly consequences.”

In addition to properly securing guns in the home, advocates encourage parents or guardians to discuss the safe handling of firearms.

“We need to normalize conversations around gun safety, more so than gun violence,” Swati Narayan said.

Narayan is with Moms Demand Action, which promotes gun safety through its’ BeSMART campaign. The campaign hosts free events at schools and in the community to teach proper gun storage and safe handling.

“For a long time we have not been focusing on gun ownership, we have only been focusing on the aftermath,” Narayan said.

Both Narayan and the Rices also want to make sure people know free gun locks are available in Texas.

“You could save your neighbor’s child, or your child, or a child at school by just putting (a lock) on there and then having peace of mind,” Scott Rice said.

Gov. Greg Abbott awarded $1 million to the National Shooting Sports Foundation to distribute hundreds of thousands of gun locks in Texas. The locks are part of the NSSF’s Project Childsafe initiative.

Scott and Flo Rice received 50 gun locks through the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office and plan to hand them out at the upcoming county fair.

“It’s a step, it’s a measure and it’s a free one we can get out to the public,” Flo Rice said.

HISD officials said they are also considering taking the step of requiring parents to sign an annual letter acknowledging if a firearm is in their home, it will be properly secured and it is against the law to allow minors unsupervised access to a firearm. Similar measures have been taken by school districts in California and Arizona.

Last year, the University of Texas released the results of a study regarding social factors involved in pediatric gunshot wounds.

The study concluded: “Analysis of social factors associated with pediatric GSW suggests that many of these injuries could have been prevented with safe firearm storage, increased community education efforts, and other safety measures.”