Is that a gun in your backpack?


Yesterday, at the North Harris campus of Lone Star College in Houston, Joshua Flores stood outside a cafeteria when a group of students ran towards him, yelling, “The guy has a gun — run, run!” Later, Flores told The New York Times: “I couldn’t believe this is happening.” 

We don’t believe or understand school shootings, but we have come to expect them.

On Aug. 1, 1966, nobody expected shootings on a school campus until Charles Whitman pointed a “deer rifle” over the ledge of the UT Tower’s 27th floor and “started shooting people,” which is what he told a doctor at the campus counseling center he was thinking about doing days before he killed 13  and wounded 30. In the half century that has passed since that day, public shootings — school shootings, in particular — have cast us far away from our grandparents’ notion of what to expect when in the outside world. Tucson, Aurora and Newtown. And before those, on our campus, in 2010, Colton Tooley, a 19-year-old mathematics major wearing a suit and ski mask and toting an AK-47 walked east on 21st Street and shot ten bullets at the ground. Bearing his weapon and a crazed smile, he ran past a window and waved at the students inside. On the street, a girl, hearing gunshots behind her, turned and saw him and started to run, tripping to the ground as if in a nightmare, before getting up to run again. Alerted, the campus and city police chased Tooley into the Perry Castañeda Library, where most spectators froze, according to a professor who had sought shelter and run into the library before he realized the AK-47 had followed. Tooley ran up to the sixth floor of the library and shot himself.

The public discussions since Newtown, deemed the most profoundly disturbing of these school shootings because of the tender age of the first-grade victims, have been unrelenting. Reporters rush unapologetically from survivors to lawmakers. Many of us, truly horrified, gaping and attentive in the days immediately after Newtown, have grown wary of a debate that offered no original ideas.  Then yesterday, it happened again on another campus just three hours from our own. 

You have no choice but to pay attention. Prior to the Lone Star College shooting on Jan. 17, State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) filed Senate Bill 182. If passed, the law would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry weapons on public university campuses in Texas. It is not the first time such a bill has been introduced in this country or in  the Texas Legislature. During previous legislative sessions, heated debate filled this Opinion page and  the bills never passed. Many students and voters believe passing such measures would make us safer by deterring potential snipers or even stopping them, while others, us included, reject that as false logic. We don’t believe concealed handgun licenses qualify our peers or our professors to calmly use firearms if a killer came to campus.

In 2010, those on 21st Street or in the library when Tooley passed them repeatedly remarked how the addition of a gun would not have made the circumstances any less destabilizing or dangerous.

That memory in mind, we urge those who would not normally speak out or engage in a debate as disenchanting as the current gun control discussion to overcome their disgust and voice their opinions if they want to stop lethal weapons from entering their classrooms.