AUSTIN (KXAN) - As coincidence would have it, on the day John Lott, a leading second amendment scholar, was meant to speak to University of Texas students about gun laws, a shooter opened fire on campus. UT is a place known as a gun-free zone, something Lott called an open invitation to that kind of attack.
"If it's the law-abiding good citizens who you disarm, relative to the criminals, you can actually have an increase in violent crime rather than a drop,” said Lott.
Redirecting his speech off-campus, Lott revealed his research shows cities with gun bans are seeing an increase in their murder rates. Shooters face less defense, which is a reason he said they feel comfortable on campuses, as well.
In 2009, masses of university students and faculty from across the state marched in opposition of the last legislative effort to get guns on campuses. Two bills, SB 1164 and HB 1893, ultimately failed, but opponents might have a similar struggle this legislative session.
On Tuesday, the Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, sponsor of the House bill, told KXAN, he is going to file such legislation again. He had plans even before the UT shooting.
Those against the previous push for the weapons included: the UT Student Government, UT Faculty Council, UT Graduate Student Assembly, and the campus safety officers’ association.
On Tuesday, UT President Bill Powers reiterated his opposition to concealed handguns at UT, telling KXAN, "We want to keep guns off of our campus.”
Last spring, UT's Student Government issued this press release recognizing strong campus support against the issue:
An early grassroots push by students and faculty at The University of Texas at Austin against the campus handgun legislation paved the way for student and faculty governance bodies at other public and private colleges and universities to express opposition. UT Student Government overwhelmingly passed a resolution against allowing guns on campus, and members helped organize a three-hundred strong rally at the Capitol on the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting.
A small but vocal minority pushed back, arguing that the bills-SB 1164 and HB 1893-could "prevent another Virginia Tech," despite a clear recommendation by the bipartisan Virginia Tech Review Panel against permitting guns on college campuses.
"I got involved in this because it frustrated me to hear [the bills' proponents] politicize our tragedy," said UT graduate student and Student Government Representative John Woods. Woods graduated from Virginia Tech three weeks after losing his girlfriend in the shooting. "The survivors have said guns would not have helped, that it was way too chaotic, and that it happened too quickly. These are experts."
The House Public Safety Committee held a hearing on Driver’s 2009 bill, but it never made it to the floor for a vote. The Senate bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, passed 20-11 but also never made it to the House floor for a vote.
“It's worth noting that, at the hearings for these bills, supporters far outnumbered those in opposition,” said Daniel Crocker, Southwest Regional Director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.
SCCC is a national organization with more than 42,000 members, many who are college students and employees. They believe states with concealed handgun licenses should afford their college campuses that same opportunity.
Supporters said the bills would help those with concealed handgun licenses to prevent a shooting tragedy like those at Virginia Tech in 2007, where 32 died, and at Northern Illinois University in 2008, where six died.
UT’s faculty advisory council, student government, and the graduate student assembly passed resolutions against the bills. They reminded lawmakers of the 1966 shooting at UT, where 16 people died and dozens more were wounded. It was the worst campus shooting until the massacre at Virginia Tech.
Some opponents, like John Woods, who protested during the first battle, said they hope the recent incident does not tip the scale toward guns on campus.
"I sort of wonder what would have happened if additional students had been armed,” Woods said. “How would that situation have been more chaotic if more people had guns?"
Woods, who is now a UT Student Government Representative, survived the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, where he also lost his girlfriend. He said, in addition to accidentally harming another innocent victim, more guns could create confusion in a crisis.
"The police spent a really long time looking for a second shooter,” he explained. “If multiple people had been armed, how would they have known who that second shooter was and who was just a person with a gun?"
Though only the shooter died in the UT incident, it left groups like SCCC with new hope that Driver might have a stronger case for a new bill.
"Until the state legislature and school officials start taking steps to make these gun-free zones gun-free in more than name only, they're stacking the odds against