The first fatal shooting of the year took place in Texas on January 14.
A student was killed when a fellow classmate shot a handgun he had brought to a J.R.O.T.C gathering at Bellaire High School located in the Houston area.
The Bellaire Police Department identified the victim as 19 year-old high school senior Cesar Cortes, a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corpsmember who had enlisted in the Army with aspirations of serving his country.
In an interview after the incident, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said the shooting appeared to be “reckless” but unintentional, based on interviews conducted with the four students who had been in the supply room when the suspect pulled out the gun.
The following day, a Texas prosecutor announced that despite the incident appearing unintentional, the 16 year-old suspect and fellow J.R.O.T.C. cadet would be charged with manslaughter.
Regardless of whether a shooting on school grounds is intentional or not, parents and students want to know that school is a safe space.
Last year’s legislative session attempted to address this issue with several bills that included increasing school safety through mental health initiatives available to children and designated funds going towards the protection of schools campuses.
In a broad school safety measure created to increase emergency preparedness, Senate Bill 11 instructed school districts to implement emergency operations plans, require emergency training for school resource officers and school district employees, and establish threat assessment teams to help identify potentially dangerous students and determine best courses of action.
A large part of the bill included strengthening mental health resources available to children by better connecting adolescents to mental health services and creating a Texas Child Mental Health Consortium.
In total, the 86th Legislature included 11 bills passed on the subject of school safety, with courses of action ranging from strengthening cyber security to physical security measures on school campuses.
These safety measures were created in the wake of the 2018 school shooting at Santa Fe High School, an event that left 10 dead and an additional 13 wounded. And the bill, in Abbott’s words, “will do more than Texas has ever done to make schools safer places for our students, for our educators, for our parents and families.”
Yet none of these measures prevented the recent tragedy in Bellaire.
The 16 year-old suspect was a minor and thus legally prohibited from carrying a gun. The seeming accidental nature of the shooting would not have allowed a school marshal to intervene.
The most relevant legislation to the incident at Bellaire High is the implementation of infrastructural safety measures on school campuses and broader awareness among gun owners.
In 2019, the Texas Legislature appropriated $100 million to go to school districts in order to renovate and retrofit new and existing buildings. In the case of the Bellaire shooting, installing metal detectors at school entrances might have saved Cesar Cortes’ life, but the only true safeguard would have been lack of access to a gun for the alleged shooter.
Gun safety advocates believe it is critical that the public be aware of the dangers of unsecured gun storage. In 2019, the Texas Legislature allotted $1 million to go towards a public awareness campaign promoting safe gun storage. In addition, the governor’s office put forward a $1 million grant to arm the state with free gun locks. However, both have received pushback from gun rights activists.
The death of Cesar Cortes’ is heartbreaking. A young cadet with aspirations of fighting on behalf of his country has died, as a result of seemingly accidental gun violence.
It now remains on the shoulders of our legislature and our communities to ensure the safety of Texas’ students.
It is clear we all must make greater strides to protect Texas’ children.