By Michael Barajas
State Senator Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, all but assured staff and students at Texas A&M University-San Antonio Thursday night that they will soon have the right to carry guns on campus.
A bill filed by Wentworth would allow students 21 and over who have concealed carry permits to bring their guns into college buildings and classrooms. Wentworth was joined by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio (Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, sent an aide who remained mum on the issue), to take questions from students and staff over the measure. Uresti told the crowd he would ultimately vote for the measure, and Wentworth claimed the bill should sail through the Legislature this time around.
Wentworth filed a similar bill last session that cleared the Senate 21-to-12 and, he says, would have easily cleared the House had it not died behind a stalled voter ID bill. Now with greater support in both chambers, Wentworth filed the bill early this year in hopes of pushing it through by the end of the session.
As usual, Wentworth explained the impetus behind his push to allow guns on college campuses came in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, when a mentally disturbed gunman and opened fire on the campus, murdering 32 students and staff and wounding 16 others. Saying the bill is "designed to give people he ability to defend themselves," Wentworth repeatedly traced back to the Virginia Tech shooting, saying at one point, "They were all defenseless, vulnerable and [the shooter] picked them off like sitting ducks."
In response to Wentworth's repeated use of the Virginia Tech massacre to justify the guns-on-campus cause, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence last month sent in Colin Goddard, a student who escaped the 2007 shooting with four bullet wounds, to lobby lawmakers in Austin against the bill.
And while the students and staff in the room Thursday night seemed split over the measure, many in academia disagree with Wentworth's notion, saying college and guns could be a volatile mix. Last week, University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa weighed in, sending a letter to Gov. Rick Perry saying many under the UT umbrella - the state's largest university system - don't want guns on campus. "...[P]arents, students, faculty, administrators, and institutional law enforcement have all expressed to me their concerns that the presence of concealed handguns on campus would contribute to a less-safe environment, not a safer one."
Campus mental health workers, Cigarroa said, noted that separation from family combined with the emotional and psychological pressures of college "contribute to the harsh reality" of campus suicide - the second leading cause of death among college students. "There is great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals age 21 or older, will lead to an increase of both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds," Cigarroa wrote.
Campus police, Cigarroa added, were particularly worried about being able to tell the difference between a shooter and someone simply defending him or herself when all parties have guns drawn. Cigarroa also worried about the effect of having guns in campus dorms, especially how to safely store those weapons.
Wentworth defended his bill Thursday night, saying, "The only reason I filed the bill was to decrease crime on campus."