Good guys shooting good guys

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In an hours-long session on March 14, the Texas House’s Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee heard arguments both for and against concealed carry on college campuses. The debate about four bills, which would each end the ban on concealed firearms on college campuses, included testimony from teachers, policemen and survivors of the 1966 massacre at the UT Tower and the 2011 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, CO. 

Our stance on concealed carry is simple: When gunfire breaks out in a public setting, bad things happen. Given the alarming frequency of campus shootings nationwide — including one here in 2010 — putting more guns in the vicinity and more bullets in the air is not the answer. It would make the task for law enforcement much harder and vastly increase the likelihood of accidental death.

We are not arguing that the problem with concealed carry on campus legislation is that it would facilitate mass shootings like the ones in Aurora or Newtown, CT. Proponents of campus carry are right to point out that a ban does nothing to actually prevent someone with malicious intent from bringing a gun onto campus; indeed, Colton Tooley proved as much when he walked around the UT campus firing an AK-47 before killing himself at the Perry-Castaneda Library in 2010. However, concealed carry proponents’ argument that allowing guns would make it possible for regular citizens to defend themselves and incapacitate a shooter in such a situation is naïve and shortsighted. National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre wasn’t wrong to say that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” but we’d prefer those good guys to have a high level of training, a plan and recognizable uniforms. UT has the benefit of its own highly-trained, highly-visible police department, and we’d feel safer knowing that they were the first responders to a crisis rather than, say, the guy in the orange sweatshirt from our physics lab.

Adding more guns to a volatile situation would only serve to make the police response less effective and more prone to human error. When gunfire breaks out in a public setting, it’s not like a John Wayne movie. Crowds scatter. People scream. It’s hard to tell who or where the shooter is. It would be even harder for police — not to mention other armed citizens — to distinguish the “bad guy” if multiple shooters were firing guns at each other from various locations, regardless of their intent. As Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Troy Gay said in the March 14 hearing, “We [the APD] feel that it would just add more to the confusion.” It’s not only easy to imagine an accidental escalation of the tragedy in such a situation, it’s hard to imagine anything else.

Some don’t have to imagine. Claire Wilson James, a schoolteacher from Texarkana who was shot by sniper Charles Whitman at UT in 1966, recalled bleeding on the ground for 90 minutes while various armed citizens converged on the Tower attempting to take Whitman out. “They only made it worse,” James told the Austin American-Statesman before testifying at the hearing. “They actually made the situation more dangerous and put the people who were trying to save us at risk.”

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, who filed one of the bills up for debate, backed up his initiative with a statement on his website saying in part, “We have a strong certification process here in Texas and concealed handgun licensees have gone through a thorough background check.” While we’re skeptical that the 10-hour certification course required by section 411.188 of the Texas Government Code fully qualifies average citizens to deal with crises effectively, it’s beside the point. Even in the unlikely event that every armed student or professor on the scene was as qualified as any law enforcement officer, the same confusion and lack of coordination would reign between them and the police — with potentially disastrous results. The last thing anyone needs is the “good guys” shooting at each other.

As far as the initiatives being discussed in the Legislature are concerned, we’re open to the proposal of House Higher Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who has suggested allowing universities to decide for themselves whether or not to allow concealed firearms. “I’m not sure there’s a need for a one-size-fits-all on this issue,” Branch said at a public event at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in January. We hope a bill to that effect is added to the mix. Such a conciliatory measure would allow UT, whose administration and student representatives both adamantly oppose guns on campus, to continue prohibiting them, while allowing other universities that so desire to end the ban. Under such a system, the presence of concealed firearms on campus would be another factor in a student or professor’s decision to go to a particular school.

We stand with UT President William Powers, Jr., UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, UT Student Government and the Austin Police Department in strong opposition to concealed carry on campus. The only shootout UT needs is the one on the football field with that school in Oklahoma.