Newtown

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Connecticut

Kaye Mitchell and Terri Gregory protest outside the Texas Capitol in favor of ‘gun sense’ laws on Saturday. The protest included speeches from officials, relatives and survivors of gun violence.

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

In response to shootings in Newtown, Conn. and around the country, protestors rallied outside the Texas Capitol on Saturday in favor of “gun sense” laws.

Speakers including elected officials, relatives of gun violence victims and survivors of gun violence campaigned for universal background checks, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and against legislation supporting guns in schools. The protest was organized by Moms Demand Action, Texas Gun Sense and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Hilary Rand, a Moms Demand Action coordinator, said she felt personally affected after the shootings in Newton because she has a daughter in first grade. In December, a 20-year-old gunman killed 26 people — including 20 children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School before killing himself. 

“It’s too easy to imagine my first-grade daughter as one of those students,” Rand said. “We don’t want to take away guns from law abiding citizens. We simply want to make common-sense rules.”

Scott Medlock, a Moms Demand Action volunteer and UT law school alumnus, said he joined the grassroots movement because of a close call with gun violence.

“I grew up next to Columbine High School,” Medlock said. “We moved to Texas the day before I would have started there. My sister would have been there the day of the shooting.”

Medlock said gun sense, as opposed to gun control, is about finding common sense measures everyone can agree on. For instance, he said, 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks. 

State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, said under current law, eight children are killed each day by gun violence, which adds up to almost “three Sandy Hooks per week.”

“The only comfort we can get is that Sandy Hook will be a turning point in how this country handles gun violence,” Naishtat said.

Kristina Morton, economics sophomore and member of University Democrats, said she attended the rally because although many people are in favor of universal background checks, some legislators still fight against them. 

“I think Americans in general are afraid of the words ‘gun control’ because gun control sounds like taking away guns from law-abiding citizens, but gun sense sounds less threatening,” Morton said.

Morton also said she opposes legislation putting guns on campus because it would not make her feel more safe.

“It concerns me because college campuses aren’t regular situations,” Morton said. “Because there are lecture halls full of students under a lot of stress who have had little sleep, I think it’s already a volatile situation.”

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.

After the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT, in which 20 students and six educators were murdered at a public school, the country has entered a heated debate over how to make schools safer. States such as New York have already passed new laws to decrease the probability of gun violence, and the president has issued an executive order for heightened federal gun control. Texas, a state with some of the most lax gun laws in the country and a governor who most likely has the Second Amendment pinned to his bedroom wall, has plans of its own this legislative session: inject more guns into the public school system. Members of the Texas Senate have wasted no time in churning out a concealed carry on campus bill to be debated for the second legislative session in a row. If the objective of this bill is safety, then the question must be posed: Would campus carry be beneficial or detrimental to campus security?

Cody Wilson, a UT law student currently working on a project that aims to allow anyone to download a file and print a fully operational firearm from a 3D printer, believes the campus carry bill doesn’t fully comply with the constitutionally-enshrined right granted by the Second Amendment. Instead of a concealed handgun — one of the few bars Texas law places on bearing arms — Wilson believes we should be allowed to carry a pistol in plain sight to “better make the point.” The idea is that if everyone is strapped to the teeth with firepower, potential shooters would be far too intimidated to act on their homicidal tendencies. This belief would imply that campus law enforcement doesn’t quite cut it in warding off possible threats. Following that logic, armed students would be a service to the police, giving them the power of thousands of vigilantes on their side.

Travis County Deputy Sheriff Derrick R. Taylor, who stressed that his opinions are his own and by no means reflect those of Travis County or the state of Texas, is unconvinced by that argument. Deputy Taylor would be anything but comforted by campus carry, listing reason after reason with a stern look in his eyes. “Our job is to protect,” he said. “Are you trained and ready to live with the guilt and pain of taking a life?” He also wondered what kind of individuals with what levels of responsibility were wearing guns to school and the myriad consequences that could arise from common carelessness.

The idea of armed matriculation is a terrifying one, and I can’t help but be reminded of the Charles Whitman shootings on campus 47 years ago. If you hear the alarming crack of gunfire and start seeing people around you fall to the ground, what kind of mental fortitude are you going to be able to sustain in order to judiciously operate a firearm? As much as everyone wants to be John Wayne, it takes countless hours of training to act accordingly in this type of situation — training you don’t receive by attaining a concealed handgun license.

I asked over 100 UT students via a poll in the “Class of 2015” Facebook group whether they would feel safer knowing their fellow students are armed. Eighty-nine percent said “no.” Whether you champion the Second Amendment or not is irrelevant when weighing the risks of a campus carry bill. While it may be a constitutional right for me to have a gun, it is also within the rights of my classmates to attend a lecture without worrying about the guy in front of her with a Colt .45 strapped to his waist. The simple fact of the matter is this: Not everyone takes the sight of a gun lightly. UT is composed of an eclectic blend of students, and I can guarantee many of them associate guns with chaos — which is exactly what this bill invites.

Cathey is a journalism sophomore from Dripping Springs.

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Talk about Sandy Hook Elementary School is turning from last month’s massacre to the future, with differing opinions on whether students and staff should ever return to the building where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

Some Newtown residents say the school should be demolished and a memorial built on the property in honor of the victims killed Dec. 14. Others believe the school should be renovated and the areas where the killings occurred removed, like Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., after the 1999 mass shooting.

Town officials also are planning private meetings with the victims’ families to get their input.

It’s a bittersweet discussion for parents and former students who have many good memories of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site where Adam Lanza shot his way into the building and carried out the massacre before dying by suicide.

“I wouldn’t want to have to send my kids back to that school,” said Susan Gibney, who lives in Sandy Hook.

Fran Bresson, a retired police officer who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in the 1950s, wants the school to reopen, but he thinks the hallways and classrooms where staff and students were killed should be demolished.

“To tear it down completely would be like saying to evil, ‘You’ve won,’” Bresson said.

Until Newtown decides what to do, Sandy Hook students will continue attending a school renovated specially for them about 7 miles away in a neighboring town.