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Texas teens say their calls for no more violence are ignored as mass shootings rise

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Columbus, Ohio, is not allowed to regulate guns, so it tried to regulate people, imposing curfews on some late-night businesses. In Texas, some high school students are taking their own approach to gun violence. Here's Caroline Love with KERA in Dallas.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: How big do we want them to be?

CAROLINE LOVE, BYLINE: Hillcrest High School's Students Demand Action Club meets on Tuesdays in a dimly lit science classroom. The kids' plastic and mesh backpacks are strewn about. They can't carry regular ones. Dallas schools started requiring clear backpacks last year. The students here wear a lanyard with their school ID at all times.

BRYNN BEECHAM: It's to help the safety around the school.

LOVE: That's Brynn Beecham. The 16-year-old founded the Students Demand Action chapter at her school after it had three lockdowns. It advocates against gun violence. The campus also had threats on social media recently. The threats turned out to be false, but Beecham says she's still scared.

BRYNN: I'm nervous walking in every day 'cause I don't know if I'm going to be able to walk out.

LOVE: Fifteen-year-old Ryley Collins from Plano, Texas, says she worries about gun violence at her school, too.

RYLEY COLLINS: It's ingrained in you to be scared of it 'cause it's so common.

LOVE: Collins' school also has a Students Demand Action chapter. The club organized a walkout to protest gun violence in April. It was a windy day, but hundreds of students still attended.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Chanting) End all violence. No more violence. End all violence.

LOVE: School shootings have gone up. David Riedman from the K-12 Shooting Database says this year is on track to have about 400. He says most gun violence at schools is an escalation of a fight, not mass shootings, and the shooter has a habit of carrying a gun to school.

DAVID RIEDMAN: They never plan to shoot someone that day, but something escalated into a shooting. And often, bystander students are struck.

LOVE: School shooters tend to be young, says Dr. Sandra McKay. She teaches pediatric health at the McGovern Medical School in Houston and says the average age is 16.

SANDRA MCKAY: That teen mind is impulsive, so we want to reduce their ability to be impulsive with something that is a dangerous weapon to them.

LOVE: McKay says most underage shooters get their guns from their homes, which is why she advocates for safe firearm storage, like in a gun safe. Safe storage is a good practice, says gun rights activist Chris McNutt with Texas Gun Rights. But his organization opposes laws that make it mandatory.

CHRIS MCNUTT: The responsibility should be on the gun owner that they properly secure their firearm in a way that makes sense to them.

LOVE: McNutt says he also doesn't support raising the age to buy firearms in Texas from 18 to 21. He says if 18-year-olds can vote and join the military, they should be able to buy guns. A University of Texas poll found that most Texans do support raising the legal age to buy firearms. But the lack of action on gun violence reforms from lawmakers is frustrating for Hillcrest students like Neve Healy, yet she remains hopeful.

NEVE HEALY: Even though we're just a little group of students, I think we have the power to change a lot more than we realize.

LOVE: Until that happens, the students in this group say they will continue to plan walkouts and sit-ins to raise awareness for their cause.

For NPR News, I'm Caroline Love in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Caroline Love