John Woods was three weeks away from college graduation in 2007 when his insulated academic world at Virginia Tech University was shattered by the bullets of a deranged gunman. Woods' girlfriend was one of 32 people who died the day Seung-Hui Cho took his handgun onto campus and began shooting at random.
Nearly four years later, Woods is now a graduate student at the University of Texas and the executive director of Students for Gun-Free Schools. As such he has become one of the foremost advocates for gun control on college campuses and is now trying to defeat a proposal to allow Texas students to carry handguns on campus. "If you bring guns into an environment that is safe, you elevate the risk level," Woods said. "We will run the risk of more small shootings, more crimes of passion."
But Texas is a state where the Second Amendment is the golden rule and the proposal in the Texas State House would allow guns on campus for the same reason that Woods wants to keep them off – to head off another tragic school shooting like the one that changed Virginia Tech.
"After seeing what happened at Virginia Tech, I decided I never wanted to see a repeat of that situation occur on a Texas campus," said state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. "So I introduced a bill to permit people who have licenses to carry weapons, take those weapons into campus buildings."
In the opening days of Texas' 82nd Legislature Wentworth introduced his bill, which would allow concealed handgun license holders to bring their guns into university buildings. This bill is identical to the one he proposed during the last legislative session in 2009. The previous legislation passed in the Senate, but was never heard on the House floor because the Legislature "ran out of time," Wentworth said.
Passage of this year's bill "looks pretty promising," he said. It has 14 co-sponsors in the Senate and more than half of the state's representatives have signed onto the House's version.
Currently, Utah is the only state that requires all public universities to allow concealed handgun license holders to bring guns on campus. If Wentworth's bill passes, public colleges in Texas would be prohibited from making any rule to stop license-holders from packing pistols in university buildings.
In Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee lawmakers are also discussing eliminating restrictions to bring guns on campuses. Last week, legislators in Arkansas filed a bill that would allow college faculty and staff to carry guns at school. Woods said he does not think the concealed carry bill will increase student safety.
"There are a lot of things we can do if we are serious about preventing school shootings," he said. "By the time a person walks into your classroom with a gun, it's already too late. There are people who are going to die whether or not there are armed students."
Sen. Wentworth, on the other hand, said carrying guns is "the most effective way to defend yourself if you're faced with a mentally ill gunman."
"These kids are innocent sitting ducks that are vulnerable to a deranged person coming in and trying to kill as many people as he can before shooting himself," Wentworth said.
University of Texas President William Powers has spoken out against allowing concealed firearms on campus.
"Most presidents that we've heard from tend to oppose this," said David Burnett, a spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. "I think there's probably a prior political persuasion of most university presidents."
Woods said university administrators, faculty and police across the state are being more vocal against guns on campus this year than they were during the 2009 debate.
"At this point in the  session no one really thought these bills had much chance of passing," he said. "I've actually been getting calls from students from different universities saying 'Wow, there's really a chance of this passing? What can I do?'"
Concealed carry license holders in Texas must be 21 years old, pass a criminal background check and complete a 10-15 hour training course. Members of the military can get a license at age 18. In 2010, the Texas Department of Public Safety reports that 102,133 concealed handgun licenses were issued. Just over 1.8 percent, or 1,862, of the licenses issued were to college-age people between 18 and 21 years old.
Burnett said that if students are allowed to carry handguns, it would deter potential gunmen from entering classrooms.
"This is about a practical need for self defense," Burnett said. "Students, faculty and staff -- their only options right now are to play dead or hide behind a desk."