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At University of Texas, guns on campus debate is personal

By CORRIE MacLAGGAN
April 4, 2011

University of Texas junior Sonia Escot was studying at her usual first-floor spot at a campus library on that morning last September when a fellow student walked in with an AK-47.

“If that shooter had wanted to shoot, I would have been one of the first,” said Escot, 21, who does not like to study anymore at that library. Gunman Colton Tooley, 19, killed himself on the sixth floor after running through campus firing his weapon, injuring no one.

Now, six months after Tooley’s actions led to a day long campus shutdown — and nearly 45 years after Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the UT Tower and fatally shot 13 people and an unborn child — lawmakers just blocks away at the state Capitol are considering allowing concealed handguns on Texas college campuses.

That would make Texas the second state after Utah to specifically allow guns on college campuses. Texas is one of 22 states that ban carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It’s one of nine states considering loosening restrictions on weapons on campus. Two states, Maryland and Washington, are considering bans.

Students such as Escot and Katie Stroh say that last fall’s shooting reinforced their belief that concealed handguns should not be allowed on campus. That morning, word of the shooting interrupted Stroh’s French test, and she and her classmates spent hours huddling on the floor with the lights off and desks barricading the classroom door.

“A classroom is someplace that people need to feel comfortable with each other,” Stroh said. “Just the possibility that someone might have a gun — I don’t care how many licenses people have — makes me feel extremely uncomfortable.”

But law student Tony McDonald said the incident shows why the proposed law is needed.

“The young man who came on campus walked past dozens or hundreds of students before he finally shot himself,” said McDonald, 23. “They had no way of protecting themselves.”

McDonald, senior vice chairman of Young Conservatives of Texas, said the proposal is more about day-to-day safety — like walking back to a car late at night — than mass shootings.

Under the proposal, concealed handgun license holders could carry guns into buildings at Texas colleges and universities.

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told Governor Rick Perry in a letter this year that the presence of concealed weapons “will make a campus a less safe environment.”

But the proposal — which has cleared committees in the Senate and House — is likely to pass. The Senate passed a similar measure in 2009, and this year, a majority of House members have signed on as co-authors.

Perry believes that people with concealed handgun licenses and proper training should be able to carry their weapon with them anywhere in the state, said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The law as it is now “has the effect of disarming the law-abiding citizen, leaving him or her vulnerable to the deranged criminal who, without regard for the law, enters campus with a gun and opens fire,” bill author Senator Jeff Wentworth said during a committee hearing. “These situations are, of course, thank God, very rare, but they do occur.”

University of Texas graduate student John Woods said that the measure would only have made last year’s Austin shooting worse. Woods was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech in 2007 when student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on campus, including Woods’ girlfriend, Maxine Turner. She was shot in the back of the head during her German class.

“I don’t want to make it sound like I arrived at this conclusion right away,” Woods said in an interview. “I spent hours agonizing over what happened in those classrooms. I needed to know where Maxine was. Did she suffer? She never even saw him come in.”

Solutions should focus on access to mental health services, not allowing more guns on campus, he said.

“There are so many things we could be doing to make sure no one walks through that door in the first place with the intent of doing harm,” said Woods, 27, a doctoral student in molecular biology.

At the University of Texas, the legacy of the 1966 Tower shooting still looms over campus, even for students who were born long after it happened.

“Sometimes it just hits you,” said McDonald, the law student. “You look at the Tower and you think about where you’d hide and what you’d do. But I don’t dwell on it.”

Copyright © 2011 Reuters Ltd.

5 Responses to At University of Texas, guns on campus debate is personal

  1. Matt R

    April 4, 2011 at 10:37 am

    As a 23 year old, concealed carry state licensed, college student: I find it irritating and somewhat depressing that many parents and teachers, (People who are intended to be my educators and role models), cannot even put together a logical or reasonable argument against campus carry. You don’t have to like the idea of carrying a gun. You are encouraged not to carry if you are scared, unexperienced, or unwilling to use one when needed.

    It seems to me that most college students understand the legislation, thats why most I know, even those who don’t like guns, still support the right and idea.

    However it seems like most parents and teachers I know haven’t even considered what the bill is actually suggesting. All I hear from them is “drunk college freshman”(who cannot get licensed because of age) running around campus with a gun. Or teachers complaining a student may shoot them over a disagreement in grades. I’m not even going to waste my time explaining the incredible flaw in logic and historical experience once again in those types of thought. I just want to let you know I am disappointed in many of you for voicing such strong opinions with such little reasoning.

  2. Pondering It All

    April 4, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    I think Texas sounds like the perfect place to test the theory that we would all be safer with lots of people carrying concealed weapons. If the Texas Legislature does pass their bill and the governor signs it, then we should know after a couple of years.

    Personally, I think they are probably wrong (perhaps spectacularly wrong) about that. In my experience, college campuses just have too many drunken frat boys pulling stupid pranks, too many fist fights that could escalate if guns are handy, too many immature and impulsive people of both genders acting out, and too many young adults with emerging mental problems.

    Police are supposed to be trained (and retrained all the time) to shoot with some precision, but even more important when NOT to shoot at all. A random cross section of people with little training, trying to use their weapons in situations they may not understand, will just be a disaster. I wonder how many undercover or plain-clothes police officers will end up killing “good samaritans” who thought they were aiding a victim.

  3. Jram

    April 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    @Pondering, Texas is already a test case. Texas has over fifteen years of concealed carry, including that by 21+year olds in college towns. None of the issues you raise have been an issue outside campus buildings. No drunken, deadly or confusing behaviors have been exhibited. CHLs didn’t turn into vigilante crime fighters fifteen years ago. The police have not been confused over the last fifteen years at crime scenes about who are the good v. bad guys. All of those fears were non-issues then, and they will still be none-issues.

    • Almandine

      April 4, 2011 at 11:14 pm

      Agree. Texas is one place where gun IQ is preeminent.

  4. woody188

    April 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    I have my concealed carry class scheduled for May 21st, so I guess you know where I fall on this issue. My father-in-law and I are taking it together. He’s over seventy and said a gun is the only way he could protect himself from a younger person.

    I work late until 1am some nights in an area known for one or two shootings per year. (Woodland and Mock Road) A woman was opening a plant just two doors down and was beaten and raped just a couple of months ago. I’ve been approached while locking the gate out front. Too many close calls.

    I was attacked twice while in college at Ohio State. I carried pepper spray at the time but would have carried a handgun if it was allowed. The first time I was jumped by a gang near the old south campus ghetto. This was back before Campus Partners transformed the area to what it is today and all the fires that burned down most of the bars and businesses.

    Second time I was near north campus and walking home on High Street alone from work at about 1am. Three drunk frat boys thought they would take me on at once. I walked away from it but it was pretty close at times. That one really shook me up because there was no reason for it. Wrong place at the wrong time.

    My cousin was jumped by five or six people at the same school and required facial reconstructive surgery because they crushed his face jumping on his head. There are some pretty bad areas around campus.

    I was attacked more often in high school. I have a big mouth and I’m not afraid of any man or to say what I feel. A lot of people don’t like that. Luckily, I have a thick skull.