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Texas Lawmakers Aim For Guns On College Campuses

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Texas Lawmakers Aim For Guns On College Campuses


Texas Lawmakers Aim For Guns On College Campuses

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States are trying to figure out how to protect colleges from mass shootings, and some lawmakers think one solution is to allow students and staff to arm themselves.

Legislatures in eight states have proposed bills that would let people carry a concealed handgun into the lecture hall, the library, and the dorm.

NPR's John Burnett has our story from Austin, Texas.

JOHN BURNETT: In most states that have a concealed carry law, premises of higher education are off limits. A bill in Texas would change that.

Sen. JEFF WENTWORTH (Republican, Texas): Right now, so-called gun-free zones, I think, ought to be renamed victims zones. I just don't want to see a repeat, in Texas, of what happened at Virginia Tech.

BURNETT: State Senator, Jeff Wentworth, a San Antonio Republican is sponsoring a bill that would allow handguns on campuses. He referred to the Virginia Tech massacre four years ago where a student killed 32 people on campus before turning the gun on himself.

Last September, the University of Texas at Austin had its own scare.

(Soundbite of News Broadcast)

Wheeler Police tell us a Colton Tooley, a math major and sophomore at UT is the gunman who fired shots outside before shooting himself.

BURNETT: Campus police were praised for their quick response when the 19-year-old, wearing a business suit and a ski mask, starting shooting an assault weapon in the air, then ran into a library and committed suicide. He didn't shoot anyone else.

According to Wentworth and other supporters of the law, a citizen with a handgun can possibly take out a campus shooter before police arrive.

Sen. WENTWORTH: Because when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

BURNETT: Texas lawmakers rejected a bill allowing concealed carry on campus two years ago. Since then, Republicans have gained a super majority in the legislature, and the controversial law has come back stronger than ever. With 50,000 students, the University of Texas at Austin in one of the biggest schools in the country.

Two years ago the student government, faculty council, and President Bill Powers came out against the law to prevent hidden pistols in University buildings.

It's legal for license holders to carry on the campus grounds. Powers says his position has not changed.

Mr. BILL POWERS (President, University of Texas at Austin): Friday night comes on our campus once a week. Mixing youth, handguns and partying, is in my view, a mix for serious concerns about safety on campus.

Mr. COREY ZIPPERER (Student, University of Texas at Austin): We get the mature thing a lot, that college students are mature enough. And the alcohol thing, that we're all just boozed up all the time.

BURNETT: Corey Zipperer, is a 21-year-old UT psychology major, and a spokesman for the Longhorn chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. On a recent morning he came down to the state capital to lobby officials.

As a license holder himself, Zipperer discreetly straps on a .38 Special. In Texas he points out, to get a concealed handgun license you must be 21 years old, have a clean record and no psychiatric disorders, and take a 10-hour instruction course that includes time at a firing range.

Mr. ZIPPERER: So if people think that 21 year olds are too immature to get a license, it sounds like they have a problem with the whole concept.

BURNETT: When John Woods came to Austin for graduate school from Virginia Tech, he thought he'd left behind the rampage that killed two of his friends. When the Texas legislature took up guns on campuses, Woods, a 26-year-old biology graduate student, stepped forward to become a leading voice opposing the bill.

Mr. JOHN WOODS (Student, University of Texas at Austin): People think of colleges as just being classrooms, but there's a lot more going on here. We have hospitals on campus, in some cases there are preschools, again, you have sensitive labs where there are hazardous materials. And this is also something where the legislature is taking away the higher education institution's abilities to make any policy on the issue.

BURNETT: At a nearby table inside the student union, students Logan Healey and Bethany Ellerbrook totally agreed.

Mr. LOGAN HEALEY (Student, University of Texas at Austin): So, our suggestion to stop people from bringing guns to campus is to allow other students to bring guns to campus so we can have gunfights.

Ms. BETHANY ELLERBROOK (Student, University of Texas at Austin): That's an awful idea. I hate it.

BURNETT: The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence reports that 22 states have rejected similar legislation. One that did not is Utah, where the University of Utah in Salt Lake City has had a concealed-weapon carry law for five years.

Mr. CHASE JARDINE (Student Body President, University of Utah, Salt Lake City): I'd say the vast majority of our student body doesn't even know about that law, or if someone does have a handgun in class, I bet you 95 percent of the people would never know about it.

BURNETT: When asked his personal opinion, the student body president says he's indifferent. It's a non-issue on campus.

John Burnett, NPR News, Austin

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