Mom of Santa Fe School Shooting Victim Hopes Congress Passes Firearm Safe Storage Act Named for Daughter

The U.S. House of Representatives is voting on the Protecting Our Kids Act, a series of laws aimed at preventing gun violence, including the Kimberly Vaughan Firearm Safe Storage Act

Rhonda Hart in DC waiting for the House to vote on the Protecting Our Kids Act.....
Rhonda Hart. Photo: courtesy Rhonda Hart

Four years ago, when Rhonda Hart's daughter, Kimberly Vaughan, was fatally shot in the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, she vowed to do everything she could to keep other kids safe.

That day has come.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to begin voting on proposed legislation named after her 14-year-old daughter: The Kimberly Vaughan Firearm Safe Storage Act. If approved by the House, it will go to the Senate for vote.

"We've been pushing these bills for several years," says Hart, who is currently at the U.S. Capitol, listening to the debate over the proposed legislation.

Rhonda Hart in DC waiting for the House to vote on the Protecting Our Kids Act.....
Rhonda Hart. courtesy Rhonda Hart

"It is so rewarding that we finally got these bills to the House," she tells PEOPLE. "But I wish we didn't have to do it."

On May 18, 2018, her daughter was one of 10 people, including 8 students, who were killed when 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who is currently being held in a mental health facility, allegedly opened fire at the school.

That morning, Hart, who worked as a school bus driver at the time, happened to see her daughter on her way into the high school while Hart was saying goodbye to the kids on her bus.

Rhonda Hart
Kimberly Vaughan with Rhonda Hart and Tyler Vaughan. Courtesy of Rhonda Hart

She had no idea that would be the last time she would see her daughter alive.

After calling out to her daughter and saying, "I love you," she and Kimberly flashed the American Sign Language sign for "I love you," a ritual they had.

An hour later, Kimberly was fatally shot.

Just days after her daughter's brutal murder, Hart told PEOPLE she would do everything in her power to prevent other kids from being massacred in school shootings.

"All I want to say is that the wrong child left this world," she told PEOPLE in 2018. "They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I want to be an advocate."

After four long years, she is grateful Congress is finally about to vote on this legislation.

"This is so wonderful," she says. "The act has my daughter's name attached to it. It's part of her legacy."

Introduced by House Democrats, The Kimberly Vaughan Firearm Safe Storage Act is one of eight in H.R. 7910, the "Protecting Our Kids Act," which also includes other measures.

In part, the proposed legislation would raise the age for someone to buy a semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21; strengthen federal criminal penalties for straw purchases (when someone buys a gun for someone else), and for gun trafficking; require existing bump stocks to be registered under the National Firearms Act and prohibit the manufacture, sale, or possession of new bump stocks.

It would also require background checks on all sales of "ghost guns" – firearms without serial numbers; and make it unlawful for anyone to leave a gun lying around that a minor could access; and penalize gun owners for not safely storing their firearms at home.

The bill named for Kimberly would require firearms and ammunition on residential premises to be safely stored if a minor could gain access to it without permission, according to

Another measure in the package, dubbed Ethan's Law, is named for 15-year-old Ethan Song, who accidentally shot and killed himself on Jan, 31, 2018, with a gun that had been stored in the bedroom closet of a friend's home, the Hartford Courant reported.

"That bill imposes specific penalties on people who leave their guns out and available to children," says Hart.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up forPEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

"In Texas, that doesn't exist," she says. "Under Texas law, you're only penalized if you leave a weapon out, and somebody 16 and under finds it. You only face up to 30 days in jail."

Pagourtzis allegedly used two of his father's legally-owned guns in the massacre, the Associated Press reported.

She is devastated about the murders of 19 children and two teachers in nearby Uvalde, Texas, who were killed on May 24 when a gunman entered Robb Elementary School with weapons he bought soon after turning 18.

"I feel absolutely gutted about that," Hart says."I know exactly what those families are going through, and I know exactly the kind of hurdles that they're going to face in the coming months," she says.

She adds, "If any of them reach out to me, I will be a mentor to them, a sympathetic ear. That's what others did for me."

Related Articles