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Guns on campus bill stirs debate

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Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2011 12:00 pm

By Andy Ross

Killeen Daily Herald

Gun-rights advocates in Texas scored a preliminary victory Wednesday when a measure allowing concealed handguns on college campuses passed the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee in a 5-3 vote.

Although House Bill 750 still must win approval from the full House and Senate before it can become law, the political reality of a Republican dominated Legislature and Rick Perry in the governor's chair leaves passage likely.

"I think it is a given and it should be on the governor's desk in the next 30 days," said Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, joint author of the bill and committee chair.

Miller's stance is backed up by the more than 80 House members who have signed on as co-authors of the legislation. The fact the Senate approved a similar measure in the 2009 legislative session - it later died in the House - is another reason for supporters to feel optimistic.

Miller acknowledged the debate over guns on campuses is not a new one. During Wednesday's committee hearing, he heard all sides of that debate as hundreds of individuals lined up to offer testimony, according to numerous media reports of the meeting. Those in favor of the bill said they should have the right to defend themselves when threatened and used the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 as an example of what a lone shooter can do. Opponents, one of whom included Austin police Chief Art Acevedo, said more weapons on campuses would only increase the likelihood of violence.

When reached on Friday, Miller said his position is that individuals with handgun licenses know how to safely carry a weapon.

"It's really past time," Miller said, referring to the law. "A responsible adult who has gone through extensive training and can maintain a concealed handgun license, should be able to carry it. They can carry it in a Walmart or downtown store and most other places."

One of the House Republicans who has not signed on as a co-author of HB 750 is Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen. Aycock said this week he is a strong proponent of gun rights, but is waiting until the bill is brought up for floor debate to make a decision.

"I'm still trying to make my mind up," Aycock said. "I would welcome input from people on that subject."

Teachers worried

A main critique leveled against guns on campuses is that students suffering from mental illness could have the ability to legally arm themselves in classrooms. For Jan Anderson, a professor at Central Texas College, that idea is "terrifying." Anderson said the situation at CTC, where so many students are older and from the military, is a much different scenario than at other schools. "At CTC we are dealing with students who sometimes have a lot of issues going on related to PTSD," Anderson said.

Another CTC professor, Suzanne Morales-Vale, said a uniform law across the state is dangerous and unnecessary.

"They should allow individual campuses to make their own decisions," Morales-Vale said.

CTC Chancellor James Anderson said a local school policy prohibiting weapons inside buildings has been in effect for years. CTC students with concealed handgun licenses may keep weapons in their vehicles on campus.

Anderson said he is well aware of employees' concerns over HB 750. At the same time, he said he also recognizes some of the college's leaders and board trustees support the measure. The chancellor was clear when offering his personal opinion, however.

"I am opposed to it," Anderson said. "I'm not convinced it adds to safety, and most of our faculty will tell you they are opposed. I cannot imagine looking at students sitting in a classroom with backpacks on and suspecting what might be in them."

Seeing both sides

The debate surrounding gun control issues are especially poignant in Killeen, home of two of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history - first the 1991 Luby's massacre and then the Fort Hood shooting in November 2009. It was Aycock's predecessor in the Legislature, Suzanna Gratia Hupp, who played a pivotal role in pushing for Texas' 1995 concealed handgun law after both her parents were killed in the Luby's shooting.

On Friday, Aycock acknowledged that he is receiving "mixed messages" from his constituents on the bill. Regarding the concerns over its passage impacting schools like CTC in a unique way, Aycock said he sees both sides of the argument.

"Military people are probably some of the better trained individuals in how to react properly to stressful situations," Aycock said. "But obviously there are people here who are under stressful conditions and some aren't ready to handle weapons. It's a difficult issue."

Contact Andy Ross at aross@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.

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