Texas poised to pass bill allowing guns on campus

By Jim Vertuno

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 20 2011 8:48 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2011 file photo, Virginia Tech shooting survivor Colin Goddard participates in a lie-in during a rally protesting gun violence in Richmond, Va. As Texas prepares to give college students and professors the right to carry guns into their classrooms, gun rights advocates and gun control organizations are using the legislation to struggle over the lessons learned from gun violence incidents such Virginia Tech. The prevailing debate in Texas, where Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, is the argument that the best defense against a gunman on campus is students who can shoot back. Goddard, a gun control activist, dismisses the idea that another student with a gun could have stopped the Virginia Tech killer.

Steve Helber, File, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is preparing to give college students and professors the right to carry guns on campus, adding momentum to a national campaign to open this part of society to firearms.

More than half the members of the Texas House have signed on as co-authors of a measure directing universities to allow concealed handguns. The Senate passed a similar bill in 2009 and is expected to do so again. Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who sometimes packs a pistol when he jogs, has said he's in favor of the idea.

Texas has become a prime battleground for the issue because of its gun culture and its size, with 38 public universities and more than 500,000 students. It would become the second state, following Utah, to pass such a broad-based law. Colorado gives colleges the option and several have allowed handguns.

Supporters of the legislation argue that gun violence on campuses, such as the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Northern Illinois in 2008, show that the best defense against a gunman is students who can shoot back.

"It's strictly a matter of self-defense," said state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. "I don't ever want to see repeated on a Texas college campus what happened at Virginia Tech, where some deranged, suicidal madman goes into a building and is able to pick off totally defenseless kids like sitting ducks."

Until the Virginia Tech incident, the worst college shooting in U.S. history occurred at the University of Texas, when sniper Charles Whitman went to the top of the administration tower in 1966 and killed 16 people and wounded dozens. Last September, a University of Texas student fired several shots from an assault rifle before killing himself.

Similar firearms measures have been proposed in about a dozen other states, but all face strong opposition, especially from college leaders. In Oklahoma, all 25 public college and university presidents declared their opposition to a concealed carry proposal.

"There is no scenario where allowing concealed weapons on college campuses will do anything other than create a more dangerous environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors," Oklahoma Chancellor of Higher Education Glen Johnson said in January.

University of Texas President William Powers has opposed concealed handguns on campus, saying the mix of students, guns and campus parties is too volatile.

Guns occupy a special place in Texas culture. Politicians often tout owning a gun as essential to being Texan. Concealed handgun license holders are allowed to skip the metal detectors that scan Capitol visitors for guns, knives and other contraband.

Guns on campus bills have been rejected in 23 states since 2007, but gun control activists acknowledge it will be difficult to stop the Texas bill from passing this year. "Things do look bleak," said Colin Goddard, assistant director of federal legislation for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, who was in Austin recently to lobby against the Texas bills.

Goddard was a student at Virginia Tech when he was shot four times in his French class. Student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people, including 10 in Goddard's classroom, before shooting himself. Goddard dismisses the idea that another student with a gun could have stopped the killer.

"People tell me that if they would have been there, they would have shot that guy. That offends me," Goddard said. "People want to be the hero, I understand that. They play video games and they think they understand the reality. It's nothing like that."

But Derek Titus, a senior at Texas A&M who has a state license to carry a concealed handgun, said someone with a gun that day could have improved the chances of survival.

"Gun-free zones are shooting galleries for the mass murderers," Titus said. "We do not feel that we must rely on the police or security forces to defend our lives."

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