Guns on campus gets first approval in Texas House
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 10:44 PM
AUSTIN, Texas -- On her first day of class, 51-year-old Marie Kilian was talking with other students at Sam Houston State University about what to do if a gunman walked in and started shooting.
Run. Tackle him. Throw textbooks. But all of those ideas seemed likely to get her killed.
"I am better able to protect myself in a Walmart than a college classroom," Kilian said Wednesday, testifying in support of legislation that would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons in college classrooms and buildings across Texas.
As a license holder, Kilian said she would have another alternative: shoot back.
Kilian was among dozens of students, faculty and administrators who testified before the bill was approved late Wednesday by the state House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee. Split along party lines, Republicans backed the measure on a 5-3 vote. It's the first step to becoming law.
Supporters consider it a key gun-rights, self-defense measure to prevent violent campus crime such as the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. Opponents, including some university and law enforcement officials, worry that students and faculty would live in fear of classmates and colleagues, not knowing who might pull a gun over a poor grade, broken romance or drunken argument.
Texas has become a prime battleground for a national campaign to open campuses to firearms because of its gun culture and the size of its university system, which includes 38 public colleges and more than 500,000 students. Similar firearms measures have been proposed in about a dozen other states, but all have faced strong opposition, especially from college leaders.
Texas would become the second state, following Utah, to pass such a broad-based law. Colorado gives colleges the option and several have allowed handguns.
Former Texas A&M University student Adrienne O'Reilly said she was assaulted by a fellow student a couple of blocks off campus. At 5-foot-2, 115-pounds, "a handgun is the only thing that gives me a fighting chance," said O'Reilly, who now has a concealed handgun license.
"One wrong word could set off a temper," countered Mickey Gressman, a student at Colin County Community College. "A lot of people say it's for self-defense. Let's just fire campus police if they're not doing their jobs and everybody has to start arming themselves. ... More guns is going to cause a lot more trouble."
The Texas Senate passed a guns-on-campus bill in 2009, but it died without a vote in the House. This year, more than half of the Republican-controlled House's 150 members have signed on as co-authors of one of the bills, and the issue is supported by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
The chancellor of the University of Texas system recently wrote Perry and state lawmakers, saying school administrators do not want guns on campus, fearing a rise in college suicides and violent confrontations.