In a CityCentre conference room far removed from the site of last week’s deadly shooting, Santa Fe High School students briefed the press on moderate school-safety measures as part of a reform bill proposed along with March For Our Lives Houston and undisclosed state representatives.
“We’ll be introducing it,” Marcel McClinton of MFOL told the crowd. “But we don’t want to mention who we’re working with.”
What they divulged of the bill: It will propose "locker laws" to require firearms be secured inside people's homes, as well as mental health reforms that involve evaluations of gun owners and their families, but it will not mention assault rifles or limits on magazines.
"It's a very, very moderate bill,” added Bree Butler, a Santa Fe senior and gun control advocate who recently traveled to the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. “We're not trying to ban ARs, we're not even trying to ban high-capacity magazines. We're just trying to make guns safer and try to make it to where people treat them as the machines they are rather than as toys.”
While prominent March for Our Lives activists such as Emma González and others have reached out to the Santa Fe survivors to show support, it’s fairly clear the response from the rural Texas community will differ greatly from the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. There is a shared push for change, and the presiding mission of these survivors is to stop school shootings from happening again, but the means of attaining these goals, as of today’s press conference, reveal a deep chasm.
“We don’t want to be compared with Parkland,” said senior Kennedy Rodriguez. “Although we are young adults using our voices, we are different.”
As to what those differences are, students would not talk about or answer questions regarding the actual shooting or their community’s reaction to it—perhaps out of reverence for their own families, which might swing Republican and pro-gun. Both Butler and junior Megan McGuire said they’d grown up safely in gun-owning households where firearms were locked away. They also both grew up in the post-Columbine age of school shootings. “It’s always been in the back of my mind,” said Butler.
Both were pre-teens when Sandy Hook happened. “I remember seeing it in the newspaper at my grandma’s when I was 11,” said McGuire. “I thought bad men shouldn’t have guns, but I didn’t realize the politics of it.”
In February, days after the Parkland shooting, both were at Santa Fe High School when it went on lockdown for four hours after popping sounds were heard near campus. Butler described lying with a friend pressed against her, a textbook hugged close to his body.
“Then on Friday,” Butler continued in a shaky voice, a set of orange and green and yellow ribbons representing gun control and SFHS pinned to her black dress, “a gunman opened fire at my school.”
Just a week later, at least seven Houston-area schools have been threatened with guns, according to the Houston Chronicle, and the parents of a deceased Santa Fe student have filed suit against the shooter’s parents for both allowing access to their firearms and failing to obtain proper mental health counseling for their son.
Reports from Santa Fe suggest a community divided over the root causes of the devastating shooting, ranging from inadequate school security to a lack of religion in schools. “It’s not the guns. It’s the people. It’s a heart problem,” Sarah Tassin, 61, told the Washington Post. “We need to bring God back into the schools.”
“Santa Fe does not want this,” McGuire told the New York Times, explaining the decision to hold the press conference some 50 miles north in Houston. McGuire and others emphasized today that they were speaking only for themselves, not for Santa Fe as a whole. “We’re telling people, we’re doing this as survivors of a school shooting that want this.”
Much of what the students had to say emphasized the complexity of school safety and gun safety. None of the students advocated for rollbacks in gun ownership. “The solution is not banning guns,” said Rodriguez. “It’s how we treat guns. There are so many aspects.”
"I'm a strong proponent of all 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment,” added McGuire, who said her father and grandfather are responsible gun owners.
When asked what measures she’d like to see happen at school immediately, Butler advocated for more armed resource officers, licensed health professionals and counselors, even metal detectors, if it would make her fellow students feel safer. “We shouldn’t have to turn schools into prison-like situations, but if it makes students feel safer.”
“It makes us feel safer,” McGuire added.
Mental health was a particular emphasis of the students, who rejected statements from the shooter’s parents claiming their son was a victim of bullying. “It shouldn't be, 'Oh he was bullied, he was a victim,'” Butler said, declining to name the assailant. “He's not a victim. He made victims."
Still, the legislative path forward remains unclear. Butler and Rodriguez spoke of meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott's staff, as well as their state representative Larry Taylor’s staff in Austin this week. “They were open to us, and took notes,” Butler noted.
Gov. Abbott did call for Santa Fe students and survivors of the Sutherland Springs church shooting to join him yesterday, along with educators, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and both gun-control and gun-rights groups to discuss school safety measures.
Since Tuesday, state Republicans have called for arming teachers and ramping up school security. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick came under fire for suggesting schools have “too many entrances and too many exits.” One of Houston’s staunchest gun reform advocates, Police Chief Art Acevedo, was not invited to the roundtable discussions and, since the Santa Fe shooting, has told the NRA, “you are on the wrong side of history,” after the group attacked him for calling on comprehensive gun reform.
Meanwhile, the Santa Fe students spoke broadly of their own reform bill, but declined to disclose a timeline or future actions planned for the summer.
One thing that is known: Santa Fe students will return to school on Tuesday.
“I don’t want that to be the last day I ever stepped foot in my high school,” Butler said, recalling the shooting on Friday, May 18.
“Personally, I’m glad we can go back to school,” added McGuire. “It’s been hard to see my teachers and friends and have time to talk to them. It will be good to see everyone in a way that’s controlled.”