Texas student after school shootings: ‘I feel we are always on guard’

Texas activists haven't forgotten the shooting at Parkland. They want gun reform

In 79 years, Jean Andrus had never marched for a cause.

But when a shooter attacked Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, the grandmother of five was moved to take action against gun violence — a mission that took her to the streets of downtown Fort Worth last spring.

“Our children were being shot in classrooms and churches,” said Andrus, a Fort Worth woman who was among thousands who participated in the March For Our Lives and helped create the local group Grandmothers Against Violence. “We could not remain silent any longer.”

As the one-year anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, shooting nears, Andrus, who is now 80, is among North Texas activists focused on pushing for laws that help prevent more mass shootings. Her group wants a ban on military-style assault weapons and is working to meet with Fort Worth city leaders to push for reforms that reduce gun-related deaths.

School shootings generated national attention in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre. In North Texas, high school students were among activists pushing for gun reform. They walked out of classes, attended school board and city council meetings. They marched in cities nationwide, including Dallas and Fort Worth.

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Left to right: Lee Ann White, Claudine Marion, Lucy Ariola, Lillian Scott, Jorene Taylor Swift and Jean Andrus at Paschal High School in Fort Worth, TX, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The Grandmothers Against Violence and the two PHS students organized March For Our Lives last year. Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Then in May, a shooter attacked Santa Fe High School in Texas, leaving 10 dead — two substitute teachers and eight students ages 18 and younger.

“When you see that there is a shooting at any school, it scares you because, I mean, we go to school too, but especially so close to home,” said 17-year-old Lillian Scott, one of two Paschal High School seniors who organized last year’s March For Our Lives rally.

After the Santa Fe shootings, Scott and Lucy Ariola, 18, wrote a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asking for gun reform. In Southlake, other concerned students held a vigil.

“I feel we are always on guard,” Scott said. “It’s sad that you go into a place and you look for an emergency exit.”

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In this May 18, 2018 file photo, Santa Fe High School student Dakota Shrader is comforted by her mother Susan Davidson following a shooting at the school in Santa Fe, Texas, where 10 people were shot to death in May. Stuart Villanueva AP

Now, the student activists are part of a multi-generational gun reform movement that includes mothers, fathers and grandparents. They want change and they want lawmakers (of all political parties and backgrounds) to know they aren’t going away.

“This is not a few crazy grandmothers or students,” said Jorene Taylor Swift, another member of Grandmothers Against Violence. “It’s a lot of people. Students shouldn’t have to think, ‘I may not live to graduate from high school because of guns.’”

Pushing for change in gun-friendly Texas

Nationwide, there have been more than 1,149 gun-involved youth deaths since the Parkland attack. There were at least 107 youth gun-related deaths in Texas through Feb. 10, according to Gun Violence Archive. Four victims died in Fort Worth: Nathan Rubio, 16, Jaimone Joubert, 18, King Thomas III, 15, and Keondurick Glasco Young, 16.

There were at least 16 accidental gun-related deaths in Texas, including that of a 16-year-old Keller Timber Creek student who was killed in an apparent accidental shooting.

Gun reform isn’t an easy battle in Texas. Guns and Texas have long ties immortalized in iconic Hollywood images of the Wild West. Guns are tied to ranching and hunting.

They were a part of everyday life when 82-year-old Claudine Marion was growing up on an Alvarado farm more than 20 miles south of downtown Fort Worth.

“My daddy shot squirrels and rabbits for lunch,” said Marion, a grandmother who is also taking a stand against some assault weapons. She said she doesn’t want to take all guns away from owners or attack the Second Amendment. Instead, the focus is ensuring that police and military are the only ones who can access military-style assault weapons.

After the Parkland school attack, Marion said she heeded inner voices urging her to help prevent more tragedies. She thought of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and wondered: “What will I say when they say, ‘What did you do when this was going on?’ ”

Even as concern about gun violence intensified among activists in recent years, Texas lawmakers had been gradually loosening some gun restrictions. In 1995, they allowed concealed carry of handguns. Twenty years later, they approved open carry of those guns.

Anyone who carries guns in Texas openly or concealed must have a License to Carry, which requires training and a fee. Texans have long been able to carry rifles and shotguns — without a license — except in places where carrying long guns is specifically outlawed.

In Texas, as the legislative session gets underway, gun reform activists said they support background checks, bans on bump stocks and bans on high-capacity military-type weapons.

What about people who want guns for self-defense or to protect property?

“There is sometimes a need for that,” Scott said. “But I don’t think anybody needs to own a weapon that’s a military-grade weapon that was made for war.” (The Santa Fe shooter used a pistol and a shotgun.)

Gun fight in Austin

After the Santa Fe shooting, Gov. Abbott released a 43-page school safety plan touching on issues ranging from boosting social media monitoring to increasing law enforcement presence at schools.

His plan focuses on making schools and students safer, rather than imposing new regulations on guns in the legislative session that began in January and runs through May 27.

But the issue of gun rights has already flared up at the Texas Capitol, as some criticized Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, the new House speaker.

“For the first time in decades, a speaker has appointed anti-gun Democrats to chair the two most important House Committees for Texas gun owners,” according to an article by The Texas Firearms Coalition.

At issue: state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, who was named to head the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, and state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, who was appointed to head the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

The fear is that anti-gun bills in the House will get hearings but “pro-gun bills either will not get a hearing or won’t get a committee vote in time to reach the House floor for debate and voting.”

The article went on to encourage Texas gun owners to reach out to top Texas Republicans, including Abbott, to weigh in on “Bonnen’s betrayal.”

“The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make the political price of betrayal so high that no elected official can afford it,” the article said.

Bonnen, who said he has an A Rating with the National Rifle Association that he doesn’t plan to lose, responded to the concerns on social media.

“It has come to my attention that a small handful of gun rights fringe groups have called my leadership into question. Let me set the record straight,” he wrote on Facebook. “For 22 years I have been an advocate for Texan’s 2nd Amendment Rights. I have not wavered at any point.”

Bonnen said his committee appointments “represent diverse views — just as any well-functioning democracy should.”

“But as they say, talk is cheap,” Bonnen wrote. “So the final test will be what does or doesn’t happen when the gavel falls at the end of the 86th Legislative Session.

“I’ll bet my critics an AR-15 that their gun rights won’t be infringed.”

Texas proposals

Texas lawmakers have been filing bills ranging from giving hunters a sales tax break on firearms and ammunition to ramping up penalties for anyone who doesn’t keep guns safe from children in their homes.

Texas lawmakers have through the end of the legislative session, May 27, to pass or kill bills.

Here’s a look at some of the gun bills that have been filed.

Red flags: State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, filed a bill that would let affected Texans seek an “extreme risk protective order” against someone based on mental-health issues, threats of violence, substance abuse and more. SB 157

Tax exemption: State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, proposes a sales tax exemption for Texans buying “firearm-safety equipment” such as lock boxes, safes, trigger locks or any item geared to “ensure the safe handling or storage of a firearm.” SB 203

Keeping guns away from children: State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, proposes that anyone who makes a firearm accessible to a person younger than 18 face a third-degree felony “if the child discharges the firearm and causes death or serious bodily injury to another person who does not reside with the child.” A third-degree felony carries a prison sentence of between two and 10 years. HB 854

Constitutional Carry: State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has filed a bill to not require Texans who carry handguns to first have a license. A License to Carry requires Texans to undergo training and pay a fee to have the license. House Bill 357

Protecting children: State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, filed a bill to boost criminal penalties to a state jail felony — which includes jail for between 180 days and two years — for those who commit family violence offenses in front of a child younger than 15. HB 24

Tax holiday: State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, wants to create a sales tax holiday in August for Texans buying firearms and hunting supplies such as ammunition, blinds and gun cases. Senate Bill 457

Gun shows: A bill filed by state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri, closes the so-called gun show loophole that lets some people buying guns at Texas gun shows avoid having a criminal background check run on them. Now only federally licensed gun dealers are required to run those checks. Reynolds’ bill would make it a misdemeanor to sell firearms at Texas gun shows without running a background check. HB 195

Reckless discharge: State Rep. “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, filed a bill geared to prevent the “reckless discharge” of a firearm — even if it is loaded with blanks — by labeling it a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of as much as one year in a county jail and a fine of up to $4,000. HB 86

New restrictions: State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, has filed a package of bills geared to limit some areas where guns may be carried in Texas. Among his proposals: HB 1163, which lets larger cities such as Fort Worth regulate some locations where handguns may be carried; HB 1164, which prevents guns from being carried at golf courses, theaters, museums, zoos, civic centers, convention centers and more; and HB 1172, which bans the manufacturing of 3D printed weapons.

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Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.
Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.