John Woods’ heart still jumps when he hears hammering or shouting outside his window, even two years after his girlfriend was shot and killed in the Virginia Tech massacre. The routine emergency sirens at the University of Texas, where he’s now a molecular biology graduate student, tie his stomach in knots.
Now, Texas lawmakers are proposing the worst thing he could possibly imagine: allowing people with concealed handgun permits to carry weapons on college campuses.
He and others say that bringing more weapons on campus can only increase the chances of a deadly incident because of the possibility of accidents or sudden meltdowns.
“Crime on campus is, statistically, incredibly low. Virginia Tech got very, very unlucky,” said Woods, who graduated from Virginia Tech shortly after the shootings and has become UT’s de facto gun control spokesman. “If students have guns on campus, that can only create more danger.”
Gun-rights advocates took a much different lesson from the Virginia Tech case and a similar massacre at Northern Illinois University last year, arguing that the measure, expected to be introduced in the Legislature this week, will give students and professors the chance to protect themselves. Right now, Texas universities are gun-free zones, they say, leaving them virtually defenseless until campus police can respond.
“I don’t want to wake up and read in the paper that Texas students were mowed down like sitting ducks on campus because they weren’t allowed to defend themselves,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who is filing the “campus carry” bill this week. “It’s a matter of personal safety and self-defense.”
Currently, 11 U.S. universities allow concealed weapons on campus, nine of them public. Last year, 17 states considered campus carry legislation, but none enacted them.
In Texas, gun-rights lawmakers have agreed to throw all their Second Amendment capital behind the campus carry bill, which would apply to all colleges in the state. At public universities, students are facing off in heated campus meetings and competing newspaper columns.
At UT-Austin, where Charles Whitman’s 1966 shooting rampage from the university tower left 14 dead and dozens others wounded, the student government, graduate student assembly and faculty advisory council have all overwhelmingly passed resolutions against the measure. Several Texas campuses, including UT-Dallas and Texas State in San Marcos, are home to their own chapters of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.
“It would be limited to a few professors, a few graduate students,” said Jeremy Schwab, a UT-Dallas graduate student who joined the concealed carry movement after being held up at gunpoint twice – once at a White Settlement bank, once outside a Dallas coffee shop. “It only takes one person to stop, to prevent, to deter a crisis.”
And those students or professors with handgun licenses would still be forced to keep their weapons concealed, proponents say, meaning they wouldn’t be visible or disruptive in classroom settings.
“At Virginia Tech, in Illinois, it’s possible someone might have been able to stop that carnage,” said Republican Rep. Joe Driver, who is sponsoring the bill in the House.
But it’s exactly this anonymity that frightens opponents of campus carry. They foresee gun-averse students afraid to go to class, or teaching assistants who fear angering students with poor test scores. And they worry suicidal or mentally ill students will use them to take their own lives, or someone else’s.
After the Virginia Tech shootings, Woods said, he was paralyzed with thoughts about how the bloodbath could have been stopped, and he shuddered every time he entered a classroom. “I spent a lot of time feeling like a victim,” said Wood.
(Distributed by MCT)