Legislators push for guns on campus

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On the Lege

Higher education campuses in Texas have been designated gun-free zones for 15 years, but lawmakers will try again to change that this legislative session. Since the start of the 82nd Texas Legislature last month, Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, have each filed bills to allow carrying licensed concealed handguns on campus. UT Division of Housing and Food Services follows institutional rules that ban all weapons and facsimiles on all areas of campus, subject to a third-degree felony. “If the legislation was to pass, DHFS would consult and work with legal counsel and University Administrators to make any changes to our current policy,” said Associate Director for Residence Life Hemlata Jhaveri, in a statement. University Operations spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said the UT Police Department will not begin any campus planning until there is a final outcome on the bill. “If this legislation passed, it would make things a little more complicated,” Weldon said. “It’s always easier to regulate something that is not a law versus something that is. It’s easier for officers to monitor if someone is breaking the law than having to check who has a license to carry on campus and who doesn’t.” Driver also filed a campus concealed carry bill during the 81st Legislative Session, in 2009, with 75 co-sponsors. The bill passed in the Senate but died in the House, he said. If the bill passes, Wentworth said only licensed holders older than 21 years old who have completed a required class and passed a background check would be granted the additional rights. Wentworth, who co-sponsored the bill last session, said he was motivated to file a similar bill this session because of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, when English senior Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on campus before he died by suicide. “[The bill] is designed to give faculty, staff and students a way to defend themselves when some deranged person comes on campus intending to commit suicide and take as many people with him as he can like they did at Virginia Tech several years ago,” Wentworth said. “A [gun-free zone] means it’s a victim zone, an area where law abiding people who will obey the law and not carry weapons will be the vulnerable, defenseless targets — sitting-ducks of people who come on campus in order to do harm.” John Woods, executive director of Students for Gun-Free Schools, experienced the Virginia Tech shooting as an undergraduate student. He said resources, such as the Behavior and Concerns Advice Line, are key in preventing campus incidents. “Let’s focus on prevention and what we can do to keep the guns out of the hands of people intending to do harm,” said Woods, a biology graduate student. “In the case of Virginia Tech, he had been ruled a danger to himself and others. Under federal law, he should not have been able to buy a gun. This idea that you can carry guns to stop a school shooting doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Woods said the bill would allow unrestricted campus carry to all facilities, unless there are amendments added to the bill. He said student communication with lawmakers is key in preventing the bill. “The way this bill is written, the University has no power [to regulate its implementation],” he said. “It’s not just that it allows concealed carry, it ties the University’s hands establishing reasonable regulations.” One amendment supported by both Woods and Students for Concealed Carry on Campus would allow campuses to regulate dorm policy. “Designated, secure storage areas for [concealed handgun license] holders living in dorms would be something we would not oppose, and the text of the bill gives power to universities to determine policy with firearms and dorm residents,” said the organization’s president Jeff Shi. The group will hold educational events throughout the semester, including a on-campus concealed handgun license class and a public shooting range day.