Bexar County approves $37 million for gun violence prevention, mental health resources

Focus will be responsible gun ownership, mental health crisis prevention, breaking stigma

Leaders in Bexar County are focusing on preventing gun deaths, and they hope more money for resources will help.

SAN ANTONIO – Leaders in Bexar County are focusing on preventing gun deaths, and they hope more money for resources will help.

On Tuesday, the Bexar County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to approve about $37 million in funding for gun violence prevention and mental health resources coming from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

“This year, more people in Texas have died from guns than any other state,’ Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Tuesday at the County Commissioner’s Court meeting.

State data shows 3,683 people have been shot and killed in Texas. That includes the 21 victims in the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.

“Things are getting worse, not better,” Wolff said.

The approved funding is broken up into four main pieces.

First is the purchase of gun locks and safety devices and the set up of distribution centers.

“We do have a young lady that ran away from home and took a parent’s gun with her. And then that gun was used in at least one violent crime that we know of,” Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar shared with the commissioners.

Salazar said the current gun lock program works, but he’s running out of locks. He plans to use the funding to buy more gun locks and set up more pop-up events to give them out. He said all of his deputies carry locks in their vehicles, and anyone in public can ask them for one.

“It may lessen the chances that their guns might be stolen by their own children, or strangers, and used to commit some sort of a crime,” Salazar said.

He pointed out responsible gun ownership would also help reduce accidental shootings and suicides.

The second piece of funding is for a countywide outreach education effort on responsible gun ownership and safe storage.

“We did launch a full multimedia campaign -- including bus wraps, commercials, radio -- but we’ll also delve into some of those grassroots efforts to make sure that every corner of the county is reached,” said Bexar County Public Information Official Monica Ramos.

The third section would fund mental health programs, law enforcement training, the addition of inpatient psychiatric beds for adults and juveniles, and the creation of a warm line, or helpline.

“This trend towards crisis, towards decreasing beds, towards ever-disappearing funding is endemic in Texas. We’re basically at the bottom,” said Probate Court 1 Judge Oscar Kazen.

Judge Kazen is also a co-chair of the Bexar County Task Force on Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health, comprised of five committees finding ways to improve access to mental health.

“We probably do close to 5,000 mental health cases a year,” Kazen said about his court. “Those are the most severe cases. On top of those 5,000, we have 10,000 emergency detentions that this community absorbs in its emergency rooms with the very few beds that we have funded. Then, we have tens of thousands of individuals who never even touched the system because their families are whispering about their illness, and they’re afraid to reach out.”

That task force will continue its work with the help of some of the new county funding.

The last chunk of money will go toward countywide school-based mental health services, training and hiring counselors.

Those presenting at the meeting believe this is crucial for stopping mass shootings like the one in Uvalde.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.