On August 1, 1966, a disgruntled student named Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck of the Tower, unloaded a barrage of weaponry and began shooting at random. He murdered 17 people (and an unborn child) while wounding 31 others in one of the most extreme, abhorrent and memorable acts of violence in this country’s history.
In the nearly fifty years that followed, this massacre still looms large over any discussions to amend state laws governing the possession of firearms on this campus. Currently, holders of concealed handgun licenses may not carry their weapons on campus. We believe this continues to be a good thing, even as the policy looks slated to change. Senate Bill 11, co-sponsored by all but one of the Republicans in the upper house, would rescind this ban.
Carrying a handgun on your hip while walking around Main Mall would not have stopped Whitman. It was only the concerted, valiant efforts of a trio of well-trained Austin Police Department officers who ended the hellish ordeal. Nor would it have likely stopped the terror caused by Colton Tooley, who in 2010 fired off his assault rifle multiple times in the Perry-Castaneda Library before killing himself. Even proponents of the “Guns on Campus” bills concede this point. Instead, they argue that the bill could protect students from would-be attackers in the dead of night.
The only problem with this is that, generally speaking, the people walking around campus in the dead of night are those who live on campus, who are overwhelmingly below 21 (the minimum age to receive a CHL). Thus, the ostensible benefit is quite limited. But the drawback — disgruntled students, faculty and visitors during the day — is not.
UT System Chancellor William McRaven recently came out against this misguided proposal, just as how former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa did a few years back. President William Powers, Jr. has also been an incessant critic of these bills.
Legislators need to stop grandstanding to gun lobbies and their Tea Party bases at the expense of university students and faculty all around this state. In 2013, when this idea came perilously close to passage, a compromise measure was floated that would have allowed university administrations to opt-out of the program. Even at more conservative schools, such as Baylor University, where students recently touted their support of a similar measure, the administrations have unanimously condemned the idea.
This should not come as a surprise. Universities are unique spaces where many different parts of life are brought together and intermixed. Guns simply should not be one of them.