In-Depth

Are Stricter Gun Storage Laws Part Of The Solution To School Shootings?

Gov. Greg Abbott’s action plan recommends strengthening the state’s firearm storage law, but not all gun owners agree it will make a difference

It’s been one month since the shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 people dead and 13 injured.

Since then, there’s been a lot of discussion about how to prevent future school shootings.

A part of that conversation has been about gun storage. That’s because authorities say the shooter had access to unlocked firearms in his home.

But even among gun owners there’s disagreement about whether strengthening firearm storage laws will prevent future shootings.

Donnie Marcantel is a gun owner. He’s also the grandfather of a student at Santa Fe High School.

“I jumped in my truck in my pajamas and barefooted and in my T-shirt and drove to the school and picked her up,” Marcantel recalled when News 88.7 spoke with him on the day of the shooting, May 18.

He said his granddaughter called him crying and screaming that morning. She told him someone was shooting inside the school. Fortunately, she was unharmed – at least physically, Marcantel said.

“The gun did nothing, the shooter did it,” he said. “So there’s not anything that I think can be done there.”

But firearms safety was one of many points Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addressed in a 40-page action plan he released last month. The set of proposals came just a week after the governor held a series of meetings in Austin.

In these roundtable discussions, lawmakers, educators, students, parents and safety experts talked about how to prevent future school shootings.

Recommendations from the plan include strengthening Texas’ firearm storage law.

To get a look at how some gun owners keep their weapons, we visited Dan at his west Houston home. He didn’t want us to use his full name because he’s afraid of potential thieves.  

“Inside we have a hunting rifle, two shotguns, an AR-15 and three pistols,” Dan said. “And they’re all locked up in here and they’re either in the safe and locked or they’re in my possession at all times.”

Dan said when it comes time to cast his ballot, the one issue he cares about most is gun rights.

But he said gun ownership comes with its own responsibilities.

“To be a responsible gun owner, you need to make it as difficult as possible for someone to gain access to the weapons,” Dan said.

Current state law (in Section 46.13 of the Texas Penal Code) requires gun owners to ensure loaded weapons are inaccessible to children 16 and under.

Gov. Abbott wants to raise the age to 17, include unloaded guns and increase the penalty for violations.

Glen Ekstrom agrees safe storage is critical. He teaches “license to carry” classes at an indoor range in South Houston.

“It’s something that can minimize a lot of these shootings if the family controls the gun, the father controls the gun, the mother controls the gun and keeps it away from unauthorized people, which unfortunately we’re going to have to look at is their own flesh and blood,” Ekstrom said. “You have to keep the gun secured away from them also.”

But Charles Cotton of Friendswood has a different opinion. The attorney and NRA board member wrote several gun-related laws for Texas, including the 1995 bill that made concealed carry legal in the state.

(Cotton has previously come under fire when he appeared to blame the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for a mass shooting there in 2015, because the former state senator voted against a law that would have made allowing concealed carry in churches the default. When asked about it, Cotton said his comment was taken out of context and that the only person to blame for mass murder is the shooter.)

“I’ve known Greg Abbott for decades,” he said. “I consider Greg a good friend and a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. On this issue, I disagree.”

Cotton said the safe storage law was never intended to be a crime prevention statute but to prevent accidents. And he said it can actually do more harm than good.

“For every Santa Fe type shooter, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of teenagers that are home alone because mom and dad are at work,” Cotton said.

Those kids, he said, are rendered defenseless in case of a home invasion.

Cotton said he does lock away his gun, and people should secure their firearms at all times.

But the reality looks different. A recent study by Harvard, Columbia and Northeastern universities finds of gun-owning households with children in the U.S., 20 percent kept their guns loaded and unlocked in 2015.

Whether Texas’ gun storage laws change is now left up to the state Legislature.

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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