13-year-old founds nonprofit driven by gun safety issue

Roman Camargo, founder of GRASP, poses inside his house. Photo by Joel Martinez.

Growing up around firearms and seeing a lack of safety awareness, Sharyland North Junior High school student Roman Camargo decided to make a difference through educating children and their parents on gun safety.

He and his older brother Ramiro Camargo, founded a nonprofit organization, GRASP, which stands for Gun Responsibility Awareness Safety Program, to address the lack of education on firearms. Roman, 13, has worked to provide awareness to children and their parents on gun safety and awareness for the past two years, obtaining the nonprofit status in April.

School shootings around the nation also prompted him to partake in creating the organization.

“We don’t want to use fear in this program at all, because that kind of drives kids into an uneasy concept with guns,” Roman Camargo said.

He wanted to break the fear of parents taking children to school because of mass shootings, he said. This also became personal with him in his own family. Although there is a focus on children, teaching adults is also important for safety purposes, Roman Camargo said.

The organization began taking shape about two years ago when he was student council president. His mother, Hortencia Camargo, encouraged him to “leave a mark for the school.”

One of the first steps is to spread the program to his school, and Roman Camargo will have an active role speaking to students there, he said. His older brother is looking to obtain his concealed-handgun license once he becomes of age.

“It’s a program that was made by kids for kids, so it’s really important the two founders participate and are always there with us,” his mother said.

Stigma surrounding firearms and raising funds for the program are some of the challenges of the nonprofit faces. From the graphics on flyers to the overall message, GRASP is geared toward children, she said. Parents who own guns should take the proper steps to ensure safety, along with making children aware of the dangers, she said.

The organization plans to host events at schools, libraries and public and private venues, Hortencia Camargo said. Helping children understand that the context of violence in media differs from real life, such as in video games is one of the group’s goals.

Seminars, certificates and small gifts will be available for those who attend events. The group will also push for practical items to give parents such as gun safes, locks and concealed handgun license classes.

“Parents can be neglectful toward gun safety, and they can leave their guns out and expose it to children … it’s a very dangerous thing,” Roman Camargo said.

As the family addresses the national problems with gun violence, the state has also enacted measures in school settings.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 11 into law in June, which addresses school safety and mental health promotion in wake of the mass school shooting in Santa Fe in May 2018. School districts in the Rio Grande Valley will undergo changes as a result of the legislation.

The middle schooler has also had personal experiences with guns for most of his life. Roman Camargo has been going to the shooting range since age 9 to learn the proper stance and to practice with his brother Ramiro, who is active in hunting and at shooting ranges.

The family stressed they were not anti-gun but rather safety, knowledge and responsibility for using and being around firearms. Knowing the difference between BB guns, airsoft and paintball guns are also part of the organization’s goals.

In addition to playing a role in this program, Roman Camargo is also involved in band, chess club and other school organizations. He also participates in other community events such as book drives.

“I don’t think his brain ever turns off,” Hortencia Camargo said.