Guns On Campus Debate Heats Up After UT Suicide

By: AP
By: AP

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas already lets lawmakers bring guns into the Capitol. And the governor sometimes jogs with a loaded pistol. But should people be allowed to carry concealed weapons onto college campuses?

Gun advocates argue that doing so could help put a quick end to threats like the one posed by a University of Texas student who fired several rounds from an assault rifle Tuesday before killing himself.

Under current law, college buildings in Texas are gun-free zones. But that did not stop Colton Tooley from darting along a street near the university's clock tower Tuesday, shooting off an AK-47. He then entered a library and shot himself. No one else was hurt.

Police had no evidence Tooley was targeting anyone, but there was plenty of discussion Wednesday about how much worse the bloodshed could have been — and how to ensure that scenario never happens.

"There are already guns on campus. All too often they are illegal," Republican Gov. Rick Perry said. "I want there to be legal guns on campus. I think it makes sense — and all of the data supports — that if law abiding, well-trained, backgrounded individuals have a weapon, then there will be less crime."

Perry's Democratic challenger, Bill White, said he supports the state law that lets people with licenses carry concealed handguns. But he wants individual schools to decide whether to allow guns on campus.

He said Perry's position "is the government ought to coerce campuses to allow concealed handguns on campus."

The gunfire erupted near the scene of one of the nation's deadliest shooting rampages. Tooley started shooting near a fountain in front of the UT Tower — the same site where a gunman ascended the clock tower and fired down on dozens of people in 1966.

The Lone Star State makes it relatively easy for people to buy assault rifles like the one Tooley had, as well as other types of firearms, at gun shops and gun shows. Texas enacted a concealed handgun law in 1995, allowing people 21 and older to carry weapons if they pass a training course and a background check.

Businesses, schools and churches can set rules banning guns on their premises. On college campuses, guns are prohibited in buildings, dorms and certain grounds around them.

Advocates for allowing concealed guns on campuses say if more people packed heat, it's more likely one of them could stop a gunman before he hurts anyone.

"There are a lot of combat veterans like me, and if we had concealed carry, the threat would be reduced significantly," said Casey Kelver, 25, a student and Army veteran from Houston who two did tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Instead you're left to sit there and wait for somebody to come save you."

Opponents argue that it would make campuses more dangerous.

"I can't think of any way that the situation yesterday would have been improved by additional guns," said John Woods, a graduate student at UT-Austin who attended Virginia Tech in 2007, when a student gunman killed 32 people, including some of Woods' friends.

Woods urged state lawmakers in 2009 to block a bill that would have allowed guns on campuses. It failed.

If a gunman is on the loose, and people try to shoot back, missed shots can pose their own danger to bystanders. And the number of guns can make it difficult for police to determine "who are the good guys and who are the bad guys," Woods said.

He advocates preventive measures, like making mental health services available and putting locks on the insides of classroom doors.

The university has no record of Tooley, a sophomore math major, being flagged for behavioral concerns before Tuesday.

"He was not on our radar," said Jeffrey Graves, associate vice president of legal affairs. "We checked into that as soon as we had the name. Not in any of our databases."

Daniel Crocker, a Texas A&M student and a board member for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said it makes no sense to have an "invisible line" at the edge of campus, beyond which guns are forbidden. He said law-abiding citizens heed that line, and criminals do not.

"There was one fundamental problem" with Tuesday's incident in Austin, he said. "Everyone was depending on the kindness and the mercy of a deranged lunatic."

Crocker said a growing number of campuses are allowing guns, but that they are not the majority. He said his group is also concerned with letting students defend themselves against the thousands of other crimes that take place on campuses, like rapes and robberies.

The state's gun culture extends into politics. Candidates often showcase their hunting and gun credentials to voters.

Earlier this year, Perry told The Associated Press he shot a coyote while on a morning run with his daughter's Labrador retriever. He said he was jogging alone on a trail in an undeveloped area near his rental mansion.

The governor, a concealed handgun permit holder, said he takes the gun with him to defend against snakes. He carries the pistol loaded with hollow-point bullets in a special belt.

Both sides expect the debate to heat up again in the 2011 legislative session, when Sen. Jeff Wentworth and Rep. Joe Driver, both Republicans, plan to reintroduce the guns-on-campus measure that failed in 2009.

But Wentworth said he does not believe Tuesday's events at the University of Texas would have unfolded any differently if his legislation had been in place.

"This was apparently a mentally deranged person who never attacked anybody, never shot anybody," before committing suicide, Wentworth said. The more relevant situation "is when somebody comes on and tries to shoot up a classroom."


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