Legislators want to make college campuses safer, but some think lawmakers are shooting blind.
The Texas Legislature is considering proposed legislation to allow concealed handguns on college campuses. Proponents of the bill say it will make campuses safer while opponents say it will actually make campuses more dangerous. Either position could be correct.
“This is an unknown and it will take several years of data,” Executive Director of Campus Safety Tom Johnson said. “You can’t hardly measure something that’s not in effect…. we don’t know what the outcome will be.”
Proponents do not see it as an issue that requires data to validate the benefits. For some, it is a matter of common sense: if someone is attacking students with a gun, then someone with a gun could save lives by shooting the assailant.
Tim Norris, a firearms instructor who teaches concealed handgun classes at Lock & Load, supports the bill. As he talked about the bill, he began speaking faster and raised his voice slightly.
“What happens when a guy comes in and starts shooting? Who’s going to stop him? You going to wait until someone gets on 911 and he kills 30 people,” Norris said.
That it can save lives by giving trained, armed citizens the means to defend themselves is perhaps the most widely cited reason proponents support the legislation. It is what motivated Texas State Representative David Simpson (R) to file the bill.
“I wanted to restore that right of self-defense,” Simpson said. “That’s a God-given right that no government should take away from a law-abiding citizen and that’s what our government has done for quite some time.”
Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, concealedcampus.org, a national organization that supports allowing concealed handguns on campuses, argues that preventative measures, such as cameras and text alert systems, are reactionary systems that are ineffective preventative measures and schools cannot guarantee their students’ safety. They see a school’s inability to guarantee safety as driving the need to allow concealed handguns on campus.
“Any institution which cannot provide for protection for its visitors must not deprive those visitors of the ability to protect themselves,” Students for Concealed Carry on Campus state on their website.
Johnson acknowledged that concern.
“What we try to do is prevent the crime or mitigate it once it happens,” Johnson said. “No law enforcement agency can ever guarantee … that crimes will stop.”
He proceeded to note a number of things in place to deter crime and assist in responding to crises. But it is the belief that armed citizens may be able to respond faster and save lives that drive those who support the law.
“Unfortunately, the police do a very good job and they do a tough job, but they usually get there to clean up the mess and look for witnesses,” Norris said.
Both Johnson and Director of Campus Safety Randy Melton stated that, as officials, they could not provide an opinion on whether or not they support the bill. However, they provided a law-enforcement perspective on how the bill could affect certain situations.
A situation, which concerns opponents, is having people who may know how to shoot a gun, and who may even be good shots, but who are unqualified to handle a violent crisis.
“There’s a major difference between the level of training for a concealed handgun person versus what a police officer goes through,” said Melton.
“They may shoot but it could go through the wall and hit an innocent person,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of factors that go in before you actually pull the trigger. The unfortunate thing is you only have a split-second to make that decision and you can’t pull it back once it’s done.”
“That is true,” Norris said. “However, are the campus police going to be in that cafeteria when the guy comes in and starts shooting? How many people is he going to kill before the police get there?”
Some students share Johnson’s and Melton’s concerns.
“You get training with your concealed handgun license but I’m sure a law-enforcement guy has a lot more scenario training [and] knows what to do in certain situations,” said sophomore Tyler Lewis.
Should someone with a concealed handgun find himself or herself in a gunfight, both the concealed handgun holder and officers will face another challenge.
“We have to treat each person we come across as someone who could be potentially a bad guy,” said Johnson.
“It scares us to death,” said Melton. “When we’re responding in a crisis situation to make split-second decisions, I don’t know who the good guy is or not. That places us in danger and is a violent dynamic situation.”
Johnson said he experienced being shot at during his time as an officer with the Houston Police Department. When it comes to multiple parties sending bullets flying, he summarized how he sees it.
“Friendly fire isn’t,” he said.