Under a new law in Texas each public university will now have to allow concealed weapons. Private universities are exempt from the law.
The new "campus carry" law in Texas, which went into effect on Monday, is reportedly intended to prevent further mass shootings in the future - by letting students be armed and thus enabling them to defend themselves. Under the new law, which is backed by Republican lawmakers, guns will be allowed in more places at public universities; however, the institutions will get to choose where on campus they will be permitted. Private universities will not be impacted by the law.
The controversial decision came on the 50th anniversary of a deadly campus sniper rampage at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). A mass shooting there in 1966 had claimed 14 lives, when Marine-trained sniper Charles Whitman had randomly shot at passers-by from the university's iconic tower. The event was the first US mass shooting broadcast live on national TV news.
The local daily newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman said officials had told them that the date was just a coincidence, and that the main motivation was to have the law enacted before the start of the next semester. The law comes only two days after a gunman had killed one person and injured three others on the streets of Austin.
A contentious issue in Texas
Texas became the eighth US state to allow guns on university campuses, joining seven other states which allow concealed guns on campuses, including Oregon, Colorado and Wisconsin. Eighteen states, however, specifically ban the practice.
Many survivors of the UT university tower shooting half a century ago see the new law as a reckless approach that could spark more killing.
Critics of the law also include three UT Austin professors, who have sued the state claiming their freedom of speech could be violated, as students with guns would create a fearful atmosphere on campus and stifle the open expression of ideas.
"I'm not scared of guns. I'm scared of this combination: term exam stress, undiagnosed mental illness and the ability to carry guns in university buildings," Seema Yasmin, a lecturer at a public university in Dallas wrote in The Dallas Morning News last week.
Proponents, however, insists that permitting concealed weapons on campuses makes students and teachers safer, because any potential shooting attacks can be halted more quickly by armed citizens.
Meanwhile, UT plans to unveil a stone monument to commemorate those killed 50 years ago. The university was repeatedly criticized for not knowing how to respond properly in the aftermath of the shooting. The event was reportedly swept under the rug at the time.
Only time will tell whether lessons have been learned from that massacre or if the new gun law will only lead to further victims in America's gun crisis.
ss/bw (AFP, Reuters)