Concealed Gun Bill Sparks Debate

Forty-three years after the infamous sniper shootings from the University of Texas tower in Austin, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Texas Republican Sens. Joe Driver and Jeff Wentworth are drafting the bill authorizing guns on college campuses in the name of student safety.

The idea for the gun law was proposed by Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a national student organization formed after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. The group has since attracted the support of more than 30,000 students and faculty nationwide. The group's Texas chapter lobbied heavily for legislative action.

"During the last legislative session, 15 states introduced bills about this and all of them failed," said Michael Guzman, president of the national student group. "Now Indiana, North Dakota and Texas are all introducing it again."

Public Safety vs. Added Danger

The proposed legislation has renewed the gun debate at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman's 1966 sniping rampage from the college's landmark tower remained the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history until the Virginia Tech massacre.

Those who support the bill as a public safety measure are opposed by those who feel it would introduce added dangers.

John Woods, a molecular biology graduate student at UT and a Virginia Tech alumnus, says that more guns mean more opportunities for violence.

"I think they are sort of trying to speculate about the future in a way that is not entirely possible," Woods said.

Woods graduated three weeks after the Virginia Tech shootings, which killed 32 students and faculty including his girlfriend and many other close friends. Since coming to the University of Texas, he has given motivational talks and become an activist against gun violence. Woods doesn't talk about the incident. He only talks about the issue that it has raised in his life.

When Woods heard about the proposed Texas bill to allow guns on campus, then discovered 15 other states were attempting similar legislation, he introduced a resolution to the UT Student Government that would ban concealed weapons at the university. The resolution unanimously passed.

"It is a matter of students not wanting guns on campus," Woods said. "It is true in America and in Texas: Over 94 percent of people don't want guns on campus."

Although Woods emotionally connects with the issue of guns on campus, he based the majority of his opinions on the Virginia Tech investigational report completed after the shootings.

The report highlights the fact that the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, was able to purchase a weapon despite a ban on gun sales to those declared dangerous to themselves or others. Because Cho was an outpatient at a mental institution, his background check cleared. No background check is required nationally or locally to buy ammunition.

The board report also noted that the outcome of the Virginia Tech shootings may have been worse if students were bearing arms.

"Of course if numerous people had been rushing around with handguns outside Norris Hall on the morning of April 16, the possibility of accidental or mistaken shootings would have increased significantly," the report said. "Anyone emerging from a classroom at Norris Hall holding a gun would have been shot."

'Relatively Few' Campus Shootings Per Year

Both Students for Concealed Carry on Campus and Woods have difficulty citing statistics for gun injuries because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer budgets to produce the data. The occurrence is also rare, according to the Virginia Tech report.

"The numbers of shootings on campuses are relatively few -- about 16 a year at approximately 4,000 colleges and universities," the report said. No stereotypical profile exists for someone who would want to commit such a crime.

"Some say that school shooters are cowards," Woods said. "That means we have no profile on school shooters."

The Virginia Tech report recommends that guns be banned on college grounds and in the buildings unless overturned by law. The Students for Concealed Carry on Campus' pro-gun proposal has garnered national attention, however, with group members featured on "Good Morning America," ABC Nightly News, Fox News and the BBC.

"We have [Students for Concealed Carry on Campus] members in all 50 states, some in the U.K, and some in Canada," said Guzman. "Currently there are 11 public universities that allow concealed carry on campus: Colorado State University and the public college system of Utah."

Colorado University remains the only other university to enact a gun ban on campus using student legislation. The state of Georgia saw a concealed weapons law pass at the end of 2008.

Guzman stressed that the requirements to get licensed prevents just anyone from having a gun and that the Virginia Tech gunman would not have passed.

"You have to be licensed, certified, and the requirements are very stringent," Guzman said. "Any type of infraction above a minor traffic violation will get your license revoked."

'We Have No Way of Defending Ourselves'

"For a long time, campuses [have been] basically disarmed," said graduate student Norman Horn. "We have no way of defending ourselves. We are victims from the beginning. If we do allow concealed weapons on campus, we will be able to protect ourselves."

UT Student Government President Keshav Rajigopalan said he sees both sides of the issue, but ultimately feels guns should not have a place in an educational setting.

"In their [the students'] view, there is a sort of sanctity and sacredness in a classroom," Rajigopalan said. "That is not the equivalent of a movie theater. That is not the equivalent of a grocery store."

If the Texas legislature passes the bill, Wood's resolution automatically is voided and the law takes effect within the next session of Texas public colleges.

"Not only would the bill be introduced to allow guns on campus, it would strip colleges of their ability to ban guns on campus," Woods said. "In other words, you can't bring a calculator or a hat to a math test, but you can bring a gun."