At the June 14 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, Jessica Le, a member of the organization March For Our Lives Houston, spoke at the meeting about her experience during an active shooter lockdown in her school. (Screenshot via harriscountytx.gov livestream)
Following the May 24 Uvalde school shooting, Harris County Commissioners Court discussed gun violence and school safety, requesting a report on county youth gun violence and creating the Harris County Safe Schools Commission on June 14.
In an unanimous vote, commissioners asked the court’s analyst’s office to create a report on data surrounding Harris County youth gun violence trends from 2015-22. The report will also provide possible policy solutions to address child deaths linked to gun violence, according to the Commissioners Court agenda.
“Our hands are tied by laws that prevent us from acting on the purchase, sale or storage of guns, but perhaps there’s something else we can do … [maybe] there’s data that we don’t know about,” Judge Lina Hidalgo said.
Jessica Le, a member of the organization March For Our Lives Houston, spoke at the meeting about her experience during an active shooter lockdown at her middle school in southeast Houston. As she and her classmates hid in the dark, Le said she was so frightened that she texted her mom “I love you” for what she feared would be the “last time.”
“How much longer do we have to wait before more lives are taken?” Le said. “Experiences similar to mine have shown that youth policy recommendations are essential in preventing future gun violence.”
During the meeting, Hidalgo added the stipulation that the analysts “consult with relevant stakeholders” while creating the youth gun violence report. The creation of a youth gun violence task force or commission should also be considered, she said.
Approved unanimously by the court, the Harris County Safe Schools Commission was created.
“The difference I think in this commission is … it’s being set up to listen to the youth,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said during the June 14 meeting. “It’s being set up to listen to the school districts … because sometimes we have preconceived ideas on what the problem is when we haven’t listened to those people that are … most involved with the issue.”
The commission will be made up of five individuals, Ramsey said, who should be members of law enforcement, school leaders and the community. The commission will also consult with the Harris County Department of Education as well as the Harris County fire marshal, he said.
Each member of the court will be able to nominate a safe schools commission member, Ramsey said. Nominations need to be submitted by June 24 so the team can be established at the next court meeting June 28.
Although the commission was ultimately approved unanimously, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia shared critiques about the commission before the vote was taken.
“It ought to be important to get a student’s perspective on it,” Ellis said. “Particularly in this state where, right now, you can get a gun at 18. Unfortunately, some of our kids are in school, past 18.”
The commission will address school safety for private schools as well as Harris County’s 25 independent school districts, Ramsey said. It will operate during the 2022-23 school year as well as additional school years, if needed.
On June 14, commissioners also approved a resolution to ask the Texas Legislature to meet in a special-called session to address gun violence and school safety. The resolution was approved in a 3-2 vote with Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle dissenting.
At the meeting, Marga Matthews, a resident of Baytown, shared her views on the commissioners’ resolution asking for a special-called session.
“Quit letting criminals out,” Matthews said. “The gun does not kill. It’s the criminal holding the gun. Fix the crime here. Last time I heard, we’re up on crime in Harris County.”