Editor’s Note: Tony Gonzales, a Republican, is the US representative for Texas’s 23rd congressional district. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Growing up, I was a victim of domestic abuse. When I was 5, my mom and I escaped our broken home and found refuge in a battered women’s shelter. Despite the troubles in my childhood, I knew I had a safe haven to escape to every day: school.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for many children in our nation today. A month ago, a gunman opened fire on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas – just 38 miles from where I grew up and a part of the district that I now represent. That despicable crime led to the death of 19 innocent children and two teachers.
As a loving father of six children, my heart breaks for my community. As the congressman who represents Uvalde, I am focused on delivering real change. That change starts with addressing the serious lack of mental health resources in our country, while passing laws that don’t infringe on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
On Friday, with a final tally of 234 to 193, the House passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a piece of legislation that does just that by providing transformative mental health and school safety provisions that in no way create new restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. President Joe Biden signed it into law Saturday morning.
Communities across America are severely underserved when it comes to mental health access. In a 2022 report by Mental Health America, Texas ranked last in access to care. This law will provide significant funding to expand access to certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHC) across the country. CCBHCs are one-stop facilities for comprehensive mental health care and substance abuse. They provide immediate services to all individuals, preventing patients in need from slipping through the cracks.
The Uvalde shooter demonstrated clear signs of mental illness that were recognized by community members but never reported. To prevent this in the future, this new law provides millions of dollars in grants to train community members, first responders and school personnel on how to identify and respond to individuals and school-aged youth with mental health issues.
The assailant in Uvalde was able to access the school through an open door that should have been locked. In response, this legislation provides $300 million to strengthen school security outside of schools, hire additional school resource officers, and train students, school personnel, and law enforcement to identify signs of violence or a mental health crisis.
Anyone who is charged with domestic violence should not have access to a firearm. This law will clarify the current prohibition preventing convicted domestic abusers from buying or possessing guns to include not only those who abused their spouses, but also those who abused their current or recent dating partners.
At the same time, this legislation does not implement universal background checks, assault weapon bans, or waiting periods for gun sales. All of which would infringe on the due process of law-abiding citizens.
The warning signs in the Uvalde shooter were clearly missed. The shooting was preventable. This legislation can and will save lives in the future. That is why it garnered support from a leading coalition of law enforcement, domestic violence, mental health and education groups.
I voted in favor of this legislation for all the children who need their schools to be safe havens. For the 21 victims in Uvalde. And for the victims’ friends and families that need help to heal.