KBTX | Bryan & College Station, TX | Aggieland News

Texas Gun Debate Hones in on College Campuses

By: Ryan Loyd, KEYE TV and Associated Press Email
By: Ryan Loyd, KEYE TV and Associated Press Email

Update: On her first day of class, 51-year-old Marie Kilian was talking with other students at Sam Houston State University about what to do if a gunman walked in and started shooting.

Run. Tackle him. Throw textbooks. But all of those ideas seemed
likely to get her killed.

"I am better able to protect myself in a Walmart than a college
classroom," Kilian said Wednesday, testifying in support of legislation that would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons in college classrooms and buildings across Texas.

As a license holder, Kilian said she would have another
alternative: shoot back.

Kilian was among dozens of students, faculty and administrators
who testified before the bill was approved late Wednesday by the
state House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee. Split
along party lines, Republicans backed the measure on a 5-3 vote.

Supporters consider it a key gun-rights, self-defense measure to
prevent violent campus crime such as the Virginia Tech shootings in
2007. Opponents, including some university and law enforcement
officials, worry that students and faculty would live in fear of classmates and colleagues, not knowing who might pull a gun over a
poor grade, broken romance or drunken argument.

Texas has become a prime battleground for a national campaign to
open campuses to firearms because of its gun culture and the size
of its university system, which includes 38 public colleges and
more than 500,000 students. Similar firearms measures have been
proposed in about a dozen other states, but all have faced strong
opposition, especially from college leaders.

Texas would become the second state, following Utah, to pass
such a broad-based law. Colorado gives colleges the option and
several have allowed handguns.

Former Texas A&M University student Adrienne O'Reilly said she
was assaulted by a fellow student a couple of blocks off campus. At
5-foot-2, 115-pounds, "a handgun is the only thing that gives me a
fighting chance," said O'Reilly, who now has a concealed handgun
license.

"One wrong word could set off a temper," countered Mickey
Gressman, a student at Colin County Community College. "A lot of
people say it's for self-defense. Let's just fire campus police if
they're not doing their jobs and everybody has to start arming
themselves. ... More guns is going to cause a lot more trouble."

The Texas Senate passed a guns-on-campus bill in 2009, but it
died without a vote in the House. This year, more than half of the
Republican-controlled House's 150 members have signed on as
co-authors of one of the bills, and the issue is supported by
Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

The chancellor of the University of Texas system recently wrote
Perry and state lawmakers, saying school administrators do not want
guns on campus, fearing a rise in college suicides and violent
confrontations.

Alice Tripp, lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association, which supports the bill, called college campuses "predator magnets" where violent crimes such as rape are underreported.

Until the Virginia Tech killings, the worst college shooting in U.S. history occurred at the University of Texas at Austin, when sniper Charles Whitman went to the top of the administration tower
in 1966 and killed 16 people and wounded dozens. Last September, a University of Texas student fired several shots from an assault
rifle on a campus street before killing himself.

Texas enacted its concealed handgun law in 1995, allowing people
21 or older to carry weapons if they pass a training course and a
background check. The state had 461,724 license holders as of Dec.
31, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, author of House Bill 750, said the issue applies mostly to faculty, staff and parents because most students would be too young to qualify for a license. In 2010, only 7 percent of license holders in 2010 were between the ages of 21 and 25, Driver said.

"We're not talking about every student getting a gun," Driver said. "I did not file this bill so (license holders) could be heroes in mass-shooting situations. I filed this bill to allow (them) to be able to protect themselves."

But some lawmakers on the committee noted that students are
staying in school longer and getting older, raising the percentage
of students who would qualify for licenses.

A University of Texas at Austin student, Katherine Merriweather,
said she was nearby when a student carried an assault rifle into a
campus library and killed himself last year. The gunman was the
only casualty.

"If another student had opened fire as a vigilante, I think the
matter would have been worse with so many students in the
library," she said.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo testified against the bill,
citing the potential for chaos if someone does begin shooting on
campus.

"When you think about 21-year-olds, responsibility is the last
thing they are thinking about," Acevedo said. "Common sense says
to me that guns on campus, like in bars, is not the right
environment."

Driver's bill would keep a ban on guns in bars, churches, hospitals or athletic events on college campuses. It also would apply to private universities, but gives give them the option to ban concealed handguns after consulting with students, faculty, parents and law enforcement.

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The Texas Legislature is considering allowing those with a concealed carry license to bring their guns into a college classroom.

Students go about their way quietly each day to and from classes. But when life is suddenly disturbed, such as the UT gunman who entered the Perry Castaneda Library, is why many believe people trained to carry guns on campus will help protect everyone.

"In a classroom setting, I am a sitting duck. One of my classrooms has only one door in which to enter or exit," said Marie Kilian. "If a gunman comes into the classroom, there is no place for us to hide."

Kilian attends Sam Houston State University and firmly believes students and professors need a way to protect themselves.

Republican lawmakers are outlining their bills to change the law to allow guns in classrooms and buildings on campuses.

"Who's most responsible for our safety?" asked State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview. "It's ourselves. I'm very grateful for police, but when seconds count, you've got to use yourself."

Similar bills failed in past legislative sessions.

Chris Bryan opposes the measure. She is a graduate of Virginia Tech and says the memorial on campus from the 2007 tragedy, when a gunman killed 32 people and then himself, remains an emotional topic.

She says she is for guns, but believes campuses are not the place for them.

"Would it have prevented more deaths at Virginia Tech? Maybe. Would it have been 17 instead of 32? Maybe. But all the other things that it would bring with it, I just don't see the positive aspect of it at all," she said.

Republican lawmakers believe support is growing in the legislature to pass the bills relating to conceal and carry on college campuses.


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