Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Sheriff Javier Salazar announced Monday a plan to buy gun locks and distribute them free of charge as well as fund a public education campaign for gun violence prevention. 

While the Texas Legislature holds the authority to write red flag laws and strengthen background checks on gun buyers, Bexar County can do some things at a local level to lower the number of gun-related deaths, Wolff said at a news conference.

“Texas is the worst in the nation with respect to mass shootings,” Wolff said. “We’re leading the nation in deaths, which is nothing to be proud of.”

In 2017, more than 3,500 people died from firearm injuries in Texas, the most of any state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As part of Bexar County’s program, VIA Metropolitan Transit will contribute $40,000 worth of bus advertisements and interior bus cards to educate the public on gun safety, VIA CEO and president Jeff Arndt said. Bexar County will give the University Health System Foundation $25,000 to purchase gun locks, according to Wolff. Gun locks either block the trigger or prevent loading ammunition into the gun. Salazar said his office also will give $25,000 to the foundation for gun locks and for an awareness campaign about gun safety.

The county plans to purchase around 14,000 locks.

Gun locks not only will ensure that children don’t accidentally fire a gun and injure themselves or other people, but they also will deter people from stealing guns, Salazar said.

“Every year, hundreds and thousands of guns fall into the wrong hands due to theft,” Salazar said. “We’re all like-minded. We’re not trying to take guns away from lawful gun owners. We’re trying to keep guns away from the wrong hands – like children, or criminals.”

Wolff also pledged to block gun shows from the county-owned Freeman Coliseum; the arena has not hosted a gun show since 2016.

As part of its prevention efforts, the county will offer training on a regular basis to any interested individuals on how to identify potential shooters, Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) said.

“This is not going to be the new norm if we do our part,” he said. “We hope to help citizens identify that ‘something,’ and if you see something, say something.”

Representatives from Moms Demand Action, an organization dedicated to preventing gun violence, stressed the need to raise awareness of gun safety. They highlighted the organization’s Be Smart for Kids campaign, which provides a guide on how to talk to kids about gun safety. 

Linda Magid, a local leader for Moms Demand Action, said that gun violence extends beyond the mass shootings that Americans read about in the newspapers – gun violence and gun-related deaths happen every day.

“The efforts that the county commissioners and Sheriff Salazar are providing will hopefully cut back on domestic violence deaths and accidental shootings,” Magid said. “The fact that children under 13 are dying by a gun, intentional or unintentional, is really a crime itself.”

Domestic violence is also a prevalent issue in Bexar County, and the connection between domestic violence and guns is usually deadly, she said.

“The efforts that the county commissioners and Sheriff Salazar are providing will hopefully cut back on domestic violence deaths and accidental shootings,” Magid said.

Though the domestic violence commission formed in August is not formally partnering with the county on its gun prevention efforts, each group’s work will inform the other, Judge Monique Diaz said. Removing guns from domestic violence offenders is one of the collaborative commission’s top priorities. There are currently laws on the state and federal level that prevent people convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm, but there’s no defined way on how to enforce that, Diaz said.

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“There is not a formal process in place to follow up on those orders to ensure that individuals already prevented from possessing firearms under the law actually surrender those firearms,” Diaz said. “Where do they take them? How are they stored? When do they take them back? That’s what we’re exploring collectively so that laws have more teeth than they do currently.”

As part of the county’s program, the sheriff’s office also will begin accepting unwanted guns or guns that people need to store safely for a prolonged period of time. People who want to surrender guns or simply have them kept in the sheriff’s property room can email score@bexar.org to arrange for a deputy to pick up the weapons.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the Rivard Report.