Texas campus carry law goes into effect 50 years to the day after shooting

August 1 marks both the 50 year anniversary of a campus shooting at the University of Texas in Austin and the start of the concealed carry of firearms on campus. 

Jon Herskovitz/Reuters
50 years after a campus shooting, concealed carry of firearms will be allowed on the University of Texas campus.

Texas' controversial campus carry law will go into effect Monday, the 50th anniversary of a shooting on campus at the University of Texas in Austin.

The university is holding an official memorial of the 1966 shooting for the first time on Monday. Fifty years ago, 25-year-old Charles Whitman brought a collection of weapons to the top of the clock tower and killed 14 on campus, wounding more than 30. He had killed two family members before the campus shooting, and another victim died of wounds received in the attack 35 years later, bringing the death toll to 17. 

As the ceremony takes place on Monday, the open carry of firearms on campus will be permitted for the first time. Victims of the shooting have spoken out against the campus carry law, especially the timing of the enactment of the new rules. 

"Guns do not have a place on campus," said John "Artly" Fox, who at a 17-year old student in 1966 helped a pregnant woman who had been shot in the stomach. "A university is a battleground of words and ideas, and not of weapons." 

That woman, Claire Wilson James, survived the attack that killed her unborn child. She has also spoken out against the concealed carry on campus. 

Texas's campus concealed carry law allows anyone 21 or older with a Texas handgun license to carry a concealed weapon on campus, as the Washington Post reported. The license can be obtained after passing a class and gun-range test, with restrictions for convicted felons, people charged with high-level misdemeanors or felonies, and those with a history of mental illness. 

Guns will generally allowed in buildings, classrooms, and dorms, with each public school mandated to set guidelines. At UT Austin, teachers will be allowed to designate their offices as gun-free zones.  Private colleges and universities are given the opportunity to opt out entirely.

Supporters of the legislation argue that "good guys" with guns are the best way to counteract the danger of a possible campus shooting. 

"An armed society is a safe society, so any time you have gun control, there is far more opportunity to become victims," Republican State Representative Jonathan Stickland, who supports the measure, told the New York Times. "The criminals aren’t going to obey the laws. It’s the responsible folks who we should be encouraging to protect themselves in the community they live in."

But many college leaders opposed the bill, which will make Texas one of eight states to allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public college campuses. University of Texas chancellor William McRaven, the former commander of United States Special Operations, and an unlikely opponent of the legislation, says that guns on campus would not make anyone safer. 

"The presence of handguns at an institution of higher learning is contrary to our mission of education and research, which is based on inquiry, free speech, and debate," University of Texas at Austin President Gregory Fenves wrote in a letter to Mr. McRaven. 

Students at UT Austin have also been skeptical of the new legislation. The Times reported a large majority of the students they interviewed were opposed to the legislation. 

The student survivors of the 1966 shooting generally echo a similar sentiment, and are upset about the timing of the enactment. 

"I marvel at the tone-deafness of the Texas legislature," Anthony Cannella, who was on campus during the shooting and had to dive for cover, wrote for the Hartford Courant. "Why did it latch onto the first day of August this year to usher in a controversial 'campus carry' gun law passed last year over protests by faculty members, students and dissenting lawmakers?"

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