By Mark GuilloryAt Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007, a gunman went on a killing spree leaving 32 students and faculty members dead. The gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, also a student at Virginia Tech, killed himself afterward.
Less than a year later, Steven Kazmierczak opened fire on a geology class at Northern Illinois University killing five students. Kazmierczak, like Cho, was a student at the university where he gunned down his fellow students; he also committed suicide after his tirade.
These two tragedies sent shock waves throughout the country and people began to question what could be done to keep college campuses safe.
In the wake of the shooting, a particular bill has picked up steam in Texas House Bill 1893. The bill will allow a concealed handgun license holder to “carry a concealed handgun on or about the license holder’s person while the license holder is on the campus of an institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education in this state.”
An institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education in this state may adopt any rule, regulation, or other provision prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns on the campus of the institution.
The bill, sponsored by State Representative Joe Driver (R), received five ayes and three nays in a vote held by the Public Safety Committee. The bill will be scheduled to go before the whole house next.
Driver feels that House Bill 1893 can make school campuses safer without added danger.
“‘Gun-free zones’ merely serve to disarm honest victims,” Driver said. “Criminals who are intent on committing violent acts will ignore any campus policy restricting firearms or any state law banning them from university grounds. This bill levels the playing field for those who have demonstrated that they are law-abiding, responsible citizens. Allowing concealed handguns to be carried almost everywhere else in the state of Texas has not resulted in an increase in violent crime -- in fact, studies have shown the opposite. That will not change if we simply remove a geographical boundary that is currently off-limits to Texas concealed handgun liscenses.”
The state representative also feels that armed students who are CHL carriers would be a good defense against armed attackers such as Cho and Kazmierczak.
“I believe that a lawfully owned firearm in the hands of any law-abiding citizen is both a strong deterrent and often the only defense against a violent attacker,” Driver said. “As good a job as they do, first responders are often just that: responders to a crime or crime scene that has already taken place.”
The issue of accidental gun discharges is a circumstance that Driver dismisses as unlikely to occur.
“We’ve had concealed carry in Texas for 13 years now and I’m not aware of incidents involving accidental shootings among the 300,000-plus licensees we have in this state,” Driver said. “The bill has immunity for the schools built into it, although that was done at the request of the schools and not because I thought it was necessary for the bill.”
Many critics feel that House Bill 1893 is an overreaction stemming from the Virginia Tech shooting After the Virginia Tech shooting, many people questioned gun laws that allowed a mentally ill person to purchase guns. Cho, despite having a record of psychological problems, was able to buy his guns legally. Driver, however, does not see it that way.
“The shootings at Virginia Tech and other institutions across the country may have served to spark the debate and media frenzy on the issue of concealed carry on campus,” Driver said. “But I’m carrying this bill because I believe that licensed, law-abiding adult students, professors or employees shouldn’t be denied the right to protect themselves from any random criminal act just because they study, work or live on a college or university campus.”
House Bill 1893 has recently sparked debate among colleges in Texas. Students from the University of Texas walked out of class April 16 to protest outside the capital. The protest was held on the two-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings.
Patrick Cardenas, president of the UHCL Student Government Association, believes each university should be responsible for campus security.
“Each public university has the capabilities to ensure campus safety by issuing policies of their own without such a policy as allowing a concealed handgun,” Cardenas said.
Anthony Jenkins, dean of students, believes that House Bill 1893 stemmed from the Virginia Tech Shootings but does not agree with Driver about allowing concealed handguns in the classroom.
“All of this is a kneejerk reaction to my alma mater, Virginia Tech, and that tragedy has spawned a lot of people to have conversations about weapons on campus,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins considers the bill to be what he calls a “feel good bill” aimed at making people feel good. However he believes that this bill would take away from what a college institution is intended to be.
“It disrupts the fundamental purpose of higher education, we should be in the business of helping young men and women become scholars and critical thinkers,” Jenkins said. “Move them to a point to where they add to an educated citizenry and not resort to violence, intimidation and threats.”
Unlike Driver, Jenkins doesn’t believe that armed CHL carriers will bring about more peace on college campus. He thinks colleges should use more preventive approaches.
“What we need to do is focus on more prevention, tighter admissions policies, looking at backgrounds of students, creating more of a safety net rather than simply carrying more guns,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins, an army veteran, feels that the training required to receive a CHL may not be enough for an individual to perform in an intense situation.
“With an M-16 assault rifle I’m considered an expert; I can hit 40 out of 40 targets out to 400 yards OK,” Jenkins said. “I was trained to do that, and the repetition made me better. To take an individual who may have to certify with a hand gun once a year and now throw them in a crisis situation where their adrenaline is pumping, they’re nervous, there is chaos and confusion and you want an individual be it 18, be it 35, to compose themselves and take out someone who is firing at them. That’s not easy, and I think that is what will open us up to more serious injuries, fatal injuries and liabilities, and that is not where we should be moving in higher education.”
Police Chief Paul Willingham, like Jenkins, also questions the training of those who are CHL carriers. He believes some CHL carriers could help, but some may make dangerous situations worse.
“Some who have advanced military and law enforcement training; I would not have a problem with,” Willingham said. “Those without this type of training and experience would be useless in a fire fight and would likely be severely injured or killed themselves.”
Willingham acknowledges that deciding who is allowed to carry a handgun into the classroom is out of law enforcement hands.
“I’m not opposed to every student carrying a firearm, but there are no checks and balances,” Willingham said. “The inability know what you’re getting causes a lot of anxiety. I hate to leave it to a ten hour class.”
Even with the VT and NIU shootings,Willingham insists that college campuses are still safe.
“Campuses are far safer than the cities around them,” Willingham said. “Look at the comparison of crimes on the campus, the fraction is so low.”
Colleges have had less shooting deaths than schools K-12. Jenkins wonders if the next step is to start arming people on this level of education who are over 18 years old.
Students who have questions about House Bill 1893 can find contact information on Joe Driver and all the other State Representatives at www.house.state.tx.us.