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.
The bill proposed by Republican state Sen. Jeff Wentworth may soon be passed, allowing licensed concealed handgun holders to carry their guns into university buildings. Fourteen Texas state senators, including Wentworth, have authored the bill.
“I am confident that this bill will pass the Senate and the House of Representatives this year and the governor will sign it,” Wentworth said, adding that the law would apply principally to senior students and faculty members, as people under 21 are unable to obtain a concealed handgun permit in Texas.
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. It would become only the second state, after Utah, to enforce such a rule.
At present, colleges in Texas – along with churches and businesses – are free to ban firearms from their premises. Guns are prohibited from university buildings, dormitories and surrounding grounds. Supporters of the bill argue that it will increase safety on college campuses.
The plan is likely to astonish most who recall the mass shootings at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people, and in Northern Illinois the following year, where five people were murdered.
It also comes just six weeks after six people were killed and 13, including the U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were wounded during a shooting spree in a supermarket car park in Tucson, Arizona.
“I consider [university buildings] a victim zone where deranged people can just pick off students like sitting ducks,” Wentworth said. “I’m trying to give students a means of defending themselves.”
Those who oppose the bill claim that allowing guns in university buildings would result in hysteria during a shooting. “If there was a classroom shooting and there were guns in the classroom, everyone would start shooting and it would be mass chaos,” said Brian Malte, Brady Campaign director of state legislation.
But opponents of the bill fear that the current barriers in place to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands are insufficient. “There aren’t the laws to prevent dangerous people from getting dangerous weapons,” Malte said.
“I see no reason why students, faculty and staff inside campus buildings should give up that right, especially to mentally deranged or suicidal lawbreakers,” Wentworth said.
Before Virginia Tech 2007, the University of Texas was the site of America’s worst college shooting, when a student killed 16 people and wounded dozens more in August 1966.
Particularly because of the Virginia Tech tragedy, however, some students are reluctant to support a similar bill in Virginia. “I wouldn’t like them bringing [guns] on campus because I’ve had to deal with gun instances in the past in my high school,” second-year College student Kaye Stansbury said.
Virginia Tech also opposes the idea of a similar bill in Virginia. “We don’t believe there is any place for weapons or guns in the classroom,” Virginia Tech spokesperson Mark Owczarski said. “It is completely against what we stand for. It is self-evident.”
Even students who consider themselves supporters of gun law deregulation do not think that guns should be allowed in university buildings, let alone on campus. “I’m totally for gun rights but there’s absolutely no need to have them on campus,” first-year College student Whit Clement said.
University students cite the combination of partying and gun use as a danger to the University community. “There’s a lot of potential for accidents, especially [with] how much drinking happens on college campuses,” said first-year College student Kevin Fleming.
Although those who oppose gun law deregulation may suggest that college campuses are safe environments, supporters believe that allowing concealed gun license holders to carry their guns onto campus would allow students to protect themselves.
“It is for the sole purpose of allowing adults to carry their guns on campus,” said Kurt Mueller, east regional director of SCCC. “This is a bill we’ve been pushing very hard and we’re hoping it’s going to become law this year.”
he continued: “College campuses are not any different than the areas that surround them. Crimes happen off campus all the time, so why can’t they happen on campus too? There’s nothing magical about the college campus line.”
Some University students agree that they would feel safer knowing that they were able to protect themselves against gunmen.
“If someone’s going to bring a gun on campus, then they’re going to bring a gun on campus,” second-year College student Tommy Hanson said. “One of the safest protections against that would be to have people carrying guns on campus.”
Although this bill has garnered support from the Texas Senate, those who oppose the legislation are confident that it will not become law. “They’ve crossed the line,” Malte said. “This sort of legislation has failed 43 times in 23 states in the last three years. There’s a reason for that.”
Colin Goddard, a senior official for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, who as a student was shot four times in the Virginia Tech 2007 incident, said: “People tell me if they would have been there, they would have shot that guy.”
“That offends me. 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.”