Texas Bill Aimed at Allowing Pistol-Packing College Students

Proposal to carry concealed weapons on campus meets opposition.

Feb. 28, 2011— -- Just last September, a sophomore at the University of Texas named Colton Tooley walked onto campus with a semi-automatic weapon, opened fire at one of the school's most populated libraries, then turned the assault rifle on himself and took his own life.

Students bearing arms with intent to harm are not isolated incidents these days, with Seung-Hui Cho's murder of 32 on the Virginia Tech campus in April 2007 resulting in the greatest loss of life.

Now members of the Texas Legislature are considering a bill that would allow students with Concealed Handgun Licenses (CHLs) to carry weapons on campus. While there are currently three versions of the bill in the House, the one that is expected to pass is scheduled to be voted on as early as this week. More than half of the Texas representatives co-authored the bill.

Not surprisingly, students are divided on the issue.

"Guns won't help contribute to a positive learning environment for students," UT senior Natalie Butler wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com. "Though the vast majority of CHL holders are completely safe, I don't like the idea of increasing access to guns for those college students who might not be prepared to handle them."

Clayton Armstrong, a Texas A&M University senior with a CHL, takes a different approach. He says he would feel safer if students were allowed to carry on campus.

"I think there is a psychological benefit to students as well as a psychological deterrent to the potential threats," Armstrong says. "I believe it would give a feeling of safety."

And Texas State Senator Jeffrey Wentworth (R) says that's exactly what the bill was designed to do.

"It's a matter of self-defense. I'm trying to save lives on college campuses," Wentworth told ABCNews.com. "People who are mentally deranged and suicidal come onto campus with guns and start shooting innocent students like sitting ducks."

But Colin Goddard, who was wounded in the Virginia Tech shooting and now works with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says that allowing guns on campus won't provide a defense to students in emergency situations.

"I Didn't Know What Was Going on Until I Got Shot"

"You have no idea what a situation like this is like," Goddard told ABCNews.com. "There was never a time that I thought I could have saved the day or defended myself. I didn't know what was going on until I got shot."

Goddard claims that because students aren't trained for emergency situations, they don't respond as quickly as police officers or other trained officials would. Goddard says that he didn't have time to react before he got shot, let alone attempt to defend himself.

"There was a girl in my class who never got out of her chair," Goddard says.

Many professors expressed similar concerns. They fear that students with CHLs, who receive only 10 hours of training, would only make matters worse.

"Anyone who thinks they can protect themselves and others by playing police officer or soldier is quite mistaken," Benjamin Gregg, a social science professor at UT, said. "Those taking the bullets are more likely to be innocent persons misidentified by self-appointed vigilantes than any intended criminal target."

Split-Second Decisions

His colleague, history professor H.W. Brands concurred. "If -- heaven forbid -- a shooter did come into my class, I wouldn't want to have to worry about getting caught in a crossfire."

Additionally, a student with a CHL trying to defend him or herself might compromise his or her own safety in addition to the safety of others, says Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin. In a life-threatening situation on campus, he added, police may have difficulty identifying which student with a gun poses a threat.

"As a police officer responsible for defending and keeping our campus safe, how does he or she make a decision of that magnitude, particularly in a split second?" said Loftin. "I worry about putting our campus police, as well as our students, faculty and staff, in a very difficult and dangerous position."

Others claim it isn't the extraordinary situations they fear. It's the day-to-day activities of a student that might lead to an accident. Brands says students often lose their temper when they receive a bad grade from professors.

Fixing the System

"The last thing I need is to have to wonder whether that heavy thing in the backpack is a chemistry textbook or a gun," he says.

Dan Leyendecker, who currently attends the University of Texas, echoed Professor Brands' sentiments. Although Leyendecker will graduate this May, before the bill takes effect, his younger brother Matt intends to come to UT when he graduates from high school.

"When my brother goes to college I want him worrying about school--not whether the armed students around him have been trained correctly," he wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com.

It's also the nightly activities of college students that concern faculty. On college campuses, where alcohol is frequently synonymous with student life, guns might be accessible to students under the influence. UT President William Powers expressed concern that the mix of guns and campus parties may prove to be a lethal cocktail.

"There was a similar bill in the last legislature session," said Powers. "I was not in favor of more guns on campus then, and I'm not in favor of more guns on campus now."

Goddard says he understands the fear that students face but claims that lawmakers are going about fixing the problem the wrong way. Instead, he suggests fixing the systems already in place to prevent and handle school shootings.

Goddard noted that one of the problems that contributed to the shooting at Virginia Tech involved a failure on the part of mental health services to appropriately document and share Cho's mental instability with other agencies. Additionally, Goddard noted that emergency response teams play an integral role in diffusing an emergency situation and suggested that they can also be improved upon.

"Students are afraid and they have reason to be," he added. "The fear is in the wrong place."

ABCNews.com contributor Claire Carroll is a member of the ABC News on Campus bureau in Austin, Texas.