Gun safety campaigns continue to fight for gun violence prevention throughout Texas

Steve Barton gives a speech at the New York Gun Safety Rally. Barton survived the theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

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Steve Barton gives a speech at the New York Gun Safety Rally. Barton survived the theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

An average of 100 Americans die every day due to gun violence. Despite this statistic, there is very little regulation on gun ownership in the United States.

In Texas, gun deaths have risen each year since 2011, according to gun control organization Texas Gun Sense. In 2016, there were 3,353 gun deaths in Texas alone

In an effort to implement gun regulation, Louis Wicher, board member and Vice President of Texas Gun Sense, said one success of the organization is encouraging the Texas legislature to pass funding for The Department of Public Safety (DPS) safe gun storage campaign, Keep ‘Em Safe Texas. 

“Texas is a very tough state to get anything dealing with gun regulation through,” Wicher said. 

According to Wicher, it is too early to see evidence of success in the campaign and there is much more work that needs to be done. 

“Safe storage is very crucial,” Wicher said. “You have to have good storage laws, but you also [have to] have good education programs, which is what DPS in Texas is doing. But you also need good laws that encourage people to do that.” 

Nationwide gun control organizations are educating the public about the issue of gun violence and the changes that need to be made. San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention (SD4GVP), a nonprofit coalition in California, prides themselves on their mission to end gun violence. 

“What we represent is actually a very solid middle ground. We have a very moderate and nuanced approach. We’re not extreme on either end of the [gun control] spectrum,” SD4GVP President Ron Marcus said. 

One of SD4GVP’s advocacy efforts involved joining with local program Walk & Knocks, organized by the Community Assistance Support Team (CAST) founded by Bishop Bowser, a local bishop of San Diego.​ 

“Through this cooperation of police, CAST and local citizens that would join, groups every week would walk in different neighborhoods, knock on doors, greet people,” Marcus said. “The advocacy helped to improve the relationships within the community. ​This is a way to kind of build bridges and start relationships that get people to know each other better and ultimately with a goal of reducing situations that lead to violence.”.

Another local Los Angeles community-based organization, Women Against Gun Violence (WAGV), pushes for common sense gun regulation in the legislation within their community. 

“Our goal as an organization is not to abolish the Second Amendment. Our goal is to purely create legislation that will make our communities safer,” ​Josh ​Stepakoff, a ​board member of WAGV and gun violence survivor ​said. ​“It’s all about safety. It’s not about the elimination of firearms.” 

One advocacy effort of WAGV is their gun violence prevention program the TALK Project, where printed educational materials of the safe ownership of firearms are distributed to the Los Angeles community. 

“[It’s] one of our hallmark programs that we have. We’re very, very proud of [it] because it’s touching a community of people that most organizations just kind of ignore,” Stepakoff said. “Most organizations are out here looking for those big legislative wins.” 

Another program is WAGV’s Speakers Bureau, a group of gun violence survivors that share their stories. 

“We are able to demonstrate how widespread this issue really is,” Stepakoff said. ​“ It’s not about pushing any piece of legislation or anything like that. It’s just about sharing our stories, our experiences and allowing the people around us to learn from them.” ​ 

From these efforts, Stepakoff notices the subtle results of his advocacy. 

“Whether it’s a thank you note that I received afterwards or someone who opened up during that time and just said how difficult it’s been for them and they’ve learned that there is a light at the end of the tunnel from talking to me, those are all wins in my book. Those are all times where I felt like I can truly see the impact of the stuff that I’m doing,” Stepakoff said.

Despite having wins, there are still bumps in the road.

“What I do and the way that I share my story, it’s not something pleasant. It’s not enjoyable,” Stepakoff said. “It’s not something that I want to wake up every morning and [say] ‘Yes, I want to relive my trauma.’”

Results of advocacy are not always immediate. In this previous 2020 Legislative Session, California has been successful in signing five gun violence prevention bills and three social justice/policing bills, according to WAGV. “We are making slow progress. I’ve always said it’s a long game,” Marcus of SD4GVP said.

Marcus believes the media has a role to play. “In my personal experience, the media has also been a little bit hard,” Marcus said. “There just seems to be more human interest story value in the gun owner who feels his rights are being trampled instead of someone who’s trying to pass laws for gun control.” 

In 2015, Texas Gun Sense formed the Texas Coalition to Reduce Gun Violence. The coalition works to create safer communities, raise awareness and reduce gun violence in Texas. Among other issues, the coalition will push to address gun-related suicides in the upcoming 87th Legislative Session, which have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s an uphill battle that’s for sure. There’s a lot of defeats.” Stepakoff said.