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UT-Austin shooting reignites debate on guns

Almost before it was over, Tuesday's crisis involving a University of Texas at Austin student toting an AK-47 across campus and killing himself reignited the debate on allowing concealed handguns at colleges.

The issue, hotly debated by Texas lawmakers two years ago, was already expected to be introduced again in the 2011 legislative session.

As the news spread Tuesday, Tarrant County GOP Chairwoman Stephanie Klick tweeted: "Too bad for UT students that Conceal Carry on Campus did not pass during the last legislative session."

Klick said Wednesday that she was swamped with responses to her post across Facebook and Twitter, most of which approved of her message.

But for those who oppose it, the rush to push for concealed handguns was frustrating.

UT graduate student John Woods said concealed-carry advocates like Klick were speaking out before the facts from Tuesday's shooting were even clear.

"It doesn't surprise me to see it," said Woods, 26. "The same thing happened at Virginia Tech, but this was not a traditional shooting. This was a troubled student targeting himself in an attention-getting way. We've had five other suicides on the UT campus in the last year, and I don't see how having concealed handguns would have prevented any of these from happening."

Woods was a Virginia Tech student in 2007, when 32 students, including his girlfriend, were killed. He is now the director of the UT chapter of Texas for Gun-Free Schools.

Political fight

In 2009, Woods spoke out against House Bill 1893, introduced by Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, and Senate Bill 1164, introduced by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, which would have allowed concealed-handgun-permit holders 21 and older to bring guns onto campus.

Both bills failed, but similar legislation is expected to be filed after the Legislature convenes in January.

Most UT students oppose bringing weapons to colleges, Woods said, but convincing them that it has a real chance of passing will be a challenge.

"I think there was pretty much overwhelming opposition to bringing guns onto campus," Woods said. "But the problem is most people didn't take it seriously. It was tough two years ago to get people to turn out because they were like: 'Guns on campus? That's crazy.' They didn't realize how close it came to passing."

Supporters of concealed carry went on with a speech Tuesday at UT-Austin by well-known author John Lott, who spoke about the failure of gun control laws to protect the public. The event was moved off campus. Some campus groups continued their sponsorship of the event despite the shooting.

"We decided no one other than the shooter was hurt, so we would go on with the event," said Kory Zipperer, vice president of the UT chapter of Students for Concealed Carry. "It was a relief that nobody else was hurt."

Lott said Tuesday's shooting makes the perfect case for allowing concealed handguns on campuses.

Local debate

The incident also sparked debate in the Metroplex.

Clayton Smith, a Tarrant County College student who lives in Euless, won a lawsuit this year against TCC over its ban on empty-holster protests that promoted the concealed-carry cause. The debate had been relatively quiet at TCC campuses and at the University of Texas at Arlington, where Smith is also taking classes this fall. But he said Tuesday's shooting put it back at the forefront.

"It's tragic what happened, but I think it might have opened a lot of people's eyes of how unsecure people are on college campuses," said Smith, 21.

Marsha McCartney, a Dallas volunteer for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said most colleges are safe without having armed students and faculty. And McCartney said that if concealed handguns were allowed, it could have caused confusion for law enforcement as rumors of a second gunman circulated around campus.

"What would have happened if a bunch of scared students with weapons had been around campus?" McCartney said. "It could have caused problems."

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

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