Bexar County approves $37 million for gun violence prevention and mental health resources
SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County leaders are focused on preventing gun deaths, and they hope more money for resources will help them.
On Tuesday, the Bexar County Court of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve approximately $37 million in funding for gun violence prevention and mental health resources from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
“This year, more people in Texas have died from firearms than in any other state,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said at the county commissioner’s court meeting on Tuesday.
State data shows 3,683 people have been fatally shot in Texas. This includes the 21 victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.
“Things are getting worse, not better,” Wolff said.
The approved funding is divided into four main elements.
First, the purchase of locks and security devices for firearms and the establishment of distribution centers.
“We have a young woman who ran away from home and took a relative’s gun with her. And then this weapon was used in at least one violent crime that we know of,” Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar told the commissioners.
Salazar said the current gun lock program is working, but lacks locks. He plans to use the funding to purchase more gun locks and hold more pop-up events to distribute them. He said all of his deputies carried padlocks in their vehicles and anyone in public could ask for one.
“It can reduce the chances of their guns being stolen by their own children, or by strangers, and used to commit some sort of crime,” Salazar said.
He pointed out that responsible gun ownership would also help reduce accidental shootings and suicides.
The second funding is for a county-wide outreach education effort on responsible gun ownership and safe storage.
“We’ve launched a full media campaign — including bus wraps, ads, radio — but we’re also going to dive into some of those grassroots efforts to make sure every corner of the county is reached,” said Bexar County Public Information Officer. Monica Ramos.
The third section would fund mental health programs, training for law enforcement, adding psychiatric inpatient beds for adults and minors, and creating a crisis line.
“This trend of crisis, shrinking beds, constantly disappearing funding is endemic in Texas. We are basically on the bottom,” Probate Court 1 Judge Oscar Kazen said.
Judge Kazen is also co-chair of the Bexar County Task Force on Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health, made up of five committees looking for ways to improve access to mental health.
“We probably handle close to 5,000 mental health cases a year,” Kazen said of his court. “These are the most serious cases. In addition to those 5,000, we have 10,000 emergency detentions that this community is absorbing in their emergency rooms with the very few beds that we have funded. Then we have tens of thousands of people who have never even touched the system because their families whisper about their illness and they are afraid to reach out.
This task force will continue its work with the help of some of the new county funding.
The final tranche of money will go towards mental health services in county schools, training and hiring counselors.
Those present at the meeting believe this is crucial to stopping mass shootings like Uvalde’s.
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