Promoting Gun Safety Statewide

The Need

In 2015, there were 3,200 gun deaths in the State of Texas, and this number has risen every year since 2011.

CHILDREN AT RISK:  An estimated 199,670 Texas children live in homes with loaded, unlocked firearms, which far too often leads to devastating consequences. 609 Texas children were killed or injured by firearms in 2015. The pervasiveness of this problem has led to guns being the second leading cause of accidental death for children in Harris County.

While Texas has fairly strong criminal penalties for gun owner negligence leading to a child accessing a gun, such policies come into play only after our state has endured yet another terrible gun-related death or injury.  In March 2016, the Department of State Health Services Child Fatality Review Team acknowledged firearm accidents as a public health problem and made a recommendation to the Governor and Legislature for a proactive solution through creation of a public awareness campaign on safe storage.

HIGH SUICIDE RATE: More than half of youth who died by suicide with a gun obtained it from their household.  1,994 Texans died by suicide using a firearm in 2015; public health experts agree that many of these tragedies could have been prevented with increased awareness, and safe storage promotion.

"Health epidemics don't end unless we intervene, taking the best science about what does and does not work and using it. It happened with Ebola, it worked for automobile crashes, and it can absolutely reduce gun violence."  — Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director, American Public Health Association

18,874 GUNS LOST OR STOLEN A YEAR:  The issue of safe storage goes beyond accidents and suicides. When guns are improperly stored they are at risk of being stolen. Texas leads the nation in the number of lost and stolen gun reports. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported the number of firearms stolen or lost in Texas reached 18,874 in 2012.Messaging and distribution about the dangers of leaving unsecured firearms in automobiles and the home could improve public safety and reduce crime statewide.

GUN INJURIES AND DEATHS COST THE STATE AND TAXPAYERS MONEY.  The Department of State Health Services reports that there were $232 million in hospital charges for firearm injuries in 2014 alone.

THE STATE HAS A PROMINENT ROLE IN PUBLIC SAFETY BUT DOESN'T ADDRESS GUN VIOLENCE:  While the State is working to prevent accidents in many areas like texting and driving, use of booster seats, safe sleep, and water safety, it is not taking similar steps to keep kids safe from access to firearms, which are estimated to be in 40% of Texas households.   There were 3,900 motor vehicle-related deaths in 2015, and the state spends $65 million on programs to educate the public on safe driving practices each year. In contrast, there are 3,200 gun deaths a year, and there is no public funding to promote the safe storage of firearms. 

 

Recommendations

Create a public awareness campaign to educate the public of the risks of unsecured firearms and on safe storage at the Department of Public Safety (DPS).  A portion of the License to Carry fee can be used to develop a statewide public education campaign on safe storage. Also, give License to Carry applicants a reduction in their application fee if they submit proof of having already purchased a secure firearm storage device.