AUSTIN – Days after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February, Sandy Phillips — who advocates for gun restrictions — traveled to the South Florida city and was encouraged by how openly student survivors wanted to discuss the shooting and push measures to try to prevent similar incidents.
The scene in Santa Fe, Texas, site of the latest school massacre, has been far different since she arrived Friday: Phillips, whose daughter Jessica was shot and killed in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting six years ago, said no one has agreed to meet with her.
No one much wants to talk about the deadly rampage inside the high school that left 10 people dead and 13 injured, much less discuss ways to prevent shootings.
“This has been starkly different from Parkland in so many ways,” said Phillips, who has traveled to nine mass shooting scenes in the past six years, offering support to survivors and victims’ families. “It’s almost jarring.”
Unlike Parkland and other mass shootings that sparked national debates and rallies calling for changes to gun rules, the shooting at Santa Fe has delivered a much more muted response to the gun debate.
Gov. Greg Abbott said he will host a series of roundtable discussions, beginning Tuesday, to find solutions to improve safety and security at Texas schools, which will include parents, teachers, mass shooting survivors, legislators and groups that advocate for and against further gun regulations.
In Santa Fe, some students and parents voiced support for gun rights over stricter regulations, while leaders pointed to other solutions, such as increasing school security, rather than tampering with gun laws.
“What law can you pass that stops someone who ignores the law?” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, the county’s top administrator. “We need to focus a lot more attention on mental health.”
Police said Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, stormed into the art complex at the rear of Santa Fe High School early Friday with a pump-action shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver and began shooting, killing 10 people in 30 minutes before surrendering to police. The alleged gunman got the weapons from his father, authorities said.
The fact that the guns were commonly owned weapons in Texas — not assault-style weapons such as the AR-15 used in other mass killings — has made it trickier for gun control advocates to point to stricter gun laws to prevent shootings.
Texas has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the USA, including the right to openly carry handguns in some places for law-abiding residents and no background checks required for private firearms sales.
Under Texas law, school districts could allow staff and/or board members, including teachers, to carry firearms on school premises after passing a training course. So far, 172 districts have opted to do so.
Under Texas law, anyone who allows a minor to gain “access to a readily dischargeable firearm" can be charged with criminal negligence, an option law enforcement officials are probably exploring in last week’s shooting. Texas has no requirement that all firearms be locked up.
Advocates said they believe Santa Fe should be another wake-up call to pass gun rule changes, such as background checks for every state and “red-flag laws,” under which law enforcement could remove someone’s guns if that person was deemed a danger to others or himself.
“We’re already raising a generation entrenched in trauma,” said Khary Penebaker, a Wisconsin-based gun law activist. “They’re asking, ‘When will we be the next one?’ Increasing school safety is not going to solve that problem.”
Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association, said Texas’ laws should be studied — instead of enacting new ones — to see how effective they’ve been and whether they should be strengthened. Texas lawmakers don't meet again until 2019, making the quick passage of any state law unlikely, she said.
Texas’ vast expanses and frontier history have made guns an intricate part of the state’s culture, something not easily undone, Tripp said. “Self-determination is ingrained in most of us,” she said. “You put out your own fires. You don’t wait for the fire department to show up.”
Bree Butler, 18, a senior at Santa Fe High, said she’s well-aware of Texas’ gun-first culture, particularly in a place as rural and conservative as her hometown. Though she supports strengthening gun laws as a way to prevent mass shootings, Butler and other student advocates opted not to engage in such a divisive debate while the city is in mourning.
Last month, a group of her friends staged a pre-class walkout in solidarity with Parkland students. For now, they’re not pushing the issue.
“I know the political climate. I didn’t want to upset anybody,” Butler said. “Our community needs time to heal.”
Follow Jervis at Twitter: @MrRJervis.