BEXAR COUNTY – Accidental shooting is the second-leading cause of death for children under the age of 13 in the United States. Texas leads the nation among unintentional shootings of children. Gun deaths most frequently occur in the home. More than 3,000 guns were stolen from vehicles in San Antonio between 2016-2018.
These are just some statistics cited by Bexar County leaders Monday during a press conference announcing a half dozen initiatives aimed at increasing gun safety in the community.
"We're not trying to take guns from lawful gun owners. That's not our goal. We simply want guns kept out of the wrong hands, like children who might find them by accident or criminals who would steal them," Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said.
Salazar announced a new program which would allow residents to voluntarily turn in firearms for temporary safekeeping or for disposal.
"If somebody may have inherited a gun, maybe, from a spouse that has passed away and those guns are in the way, and they don't know quite what to do with them, and they don't want to sell them, we'll take those off your hands," Salazar said.
He said the sheriff's office is willing to store guns temporarily in cases in which residents may be traveling for an extended time, or have listed a home for sale or even if they're expecting house guests.
"We'll have a deputy come out. We'll collect the guns we'll give you a receipt for them, and then we'll hold them in our property room for safekeeping until you're ready to accept those guns back again," Salazar said.
Salazar said each weapon will be checked against the sheriff's office databases to make sure it has not been used in a crime.
Residents who want to participate are asked to email SCORE@bexar.org.
Salazar admitted that he's not expecting a lot of people to take him up on his offer to store or turn in guns, but said any gun turned in has less of a chance of being stolen or misused.
The sheriff's office program was one of six initiatives announced Monday.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff also announced that Freeman Coliseum would no longer host gun shows. Wolff said the last gun show at the county facility was in 2016 and said there are no plans to host a gun show in the future.
"At gun shows, anybody can buy a gun from a stranger and sell it to a stranger," Wolff said.
Another focus for the county will be purchasing 14,000 gun locks. The locks will be distributed by University Health System through its community outreach programs.
"Hiding a gun is not securing a gun. Locking it is vital to our children's safety," said Be SMART for Kids volunteer, Dana Halff.
Two of the efforts will focus on education.
The Be SMART campaign aims at educating both gun owners and non gun owners.
SMART is an acronym outlining the five main goals of the program:
- Secure your guns in your homes and vehicle.
- Model responsible behavior around guns.
- Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other people's homes.
- Recognize the role of guns in suicides.
- Tell people to be SMART.
VIA Metropolitan Transit is contributing $40,000 in kind to advertise Be SMART on its buses and provide bus cards for passengers about the program in English and Spanish.
A second education initiative would instruct members of law enforcement, educators and members of the community on how to identify a potential active shooter. The classes will be taught on a quarterly basis through the county's Office of Emergency Management and the Bexar County Fire Marshal's office.
The final initiative comes at urging of the San Antonio chapter of Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for stronger gun laws. They're asking for judges to enforce and toughen restrictions in domestic violence cases.
Salazar said family violence-related homicides are up this year, saying they've actually doubled from last year.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said he's asking magistrate judges to make it a condition of bond that a person arrested on domestic charges be prohibited from possessing a gun. In addition, he's asking domestic violence court judges to make an affirmative finding of family violence so criminals cannot possess weapons. Gonzales said he will push for harsher punishments for those who have been convicted of family violence crimes who are found to be in possession of a firearm.