Texas mom of victim from Santa Fe school shooting launches bid for Congress

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SANTA FE, Texas (Nexstar) — Rhonda Hart, whose daughter was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, announced Fridays she is running for Congress.

Hart said she was already keen on political involvement, but her activism took a turn after the death of her daughter at the hands of a teenaged gunman who used his father’s firearms. Since that tragedy, Hart has been focused on getting safe gun storage laws passed at the state and federal level.

The Democrat plans to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, who has held the deep red, Galveston-area seat since 2013. The Weber campaign welcomed Hart into the race, in a statement from a campaign spokesperson.

“We respect everyone’s right to participate in the political arena,” the statement said. “Randy remains focused on his proven record of championing conservative values and fighting for the issues that impact Texas and our community.”

Hart has had some success in Congress, when the U.S. House passed the Kimberly Vaughan Firearm Safe Storage Act, named for her daughter. The measure ultimately did not garner enough support in the Senate to make it to the president’s desk, but it would have required certain gun manufacturers to provide information about how to safely store a firearm.

“The Santa Fe school shooting would not have happened if that dad had taken that extra step to properly secure his guns. And that’s all that I asked from people,” she said.

Now part of a survivor club no family ever wishes to join, Hart is part of a micogroup within families affected by gun violence who have sought political reform in the wake of losing loved ones. The mom has become a regular at the Texas and U.S. Capitol, standing side-by-side with other Santa Fe families — and this year, Uvalde families.

“We tell our stories till we’re blue in the face, and everybody’s crying, and they don’t act on it, they just sit back and, you know, keep doing the status quo, basically. And a lot of us are tired of it,” Hart said.

Liz Hanks, the Texas chapter lead for Moms Demand Action — a gun safety advocacy group — believes that an initiave called “Demand a Seat” will be a natural progression of political activism born from mass shootings. The program, run by the gun safety group Everytown, serves as a training program for candidates advocating for similar ideals.

Hanks anticipates a growing number of individuals from the gun safety movement running for office, emphasizing that the experiences of these activists with gun violence should be considered a political strength, not a weakness.

“There’s no reason to discredit them just because they’re gun violence survivors,” Hanks said. “If anything, it should be a selling point for voters.”

Hart acknowledges the challenges ahead in the ultra-conservative CD 14. Despite an uphill battle — she said she is determined to make a difference with primaries coming up in March.

In the 2020 elections, Congressman Randy Weber secured a decisive victory against his Democratic challenger, obtaining a little over 61% of the votes in the Southeast Texas district. Weber also has a 92% approval rating from the National Rifle Association, voting against gun safety proposals like and has consistently voted against enhanced background checks in 2021, as well as the Safer Communities Act, passed after the Uvalde shooting.

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