April 16, 2009

Public University Officials “Gagged” From Speaking Out; Parents Threaten Boycott of Texas Public Universities if Legislation Passes

AUSTIN, TX – On the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech tragedy, university students, faculty, gun violence survivors, and advocates rallied at the state capitol in Austin, Texas to send a clear message to lawmakers: “keep hidden and loaded guns off our college campuses.” The shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, the deadliest shooting in American history, killed 32 students and professors, and wounded 17 others. The tragedy is being exploited by the gun lobby in Texas and other states to push its dangerous agenda to expand the carrying of concealed guns onto college campuses.

Most troubling, however, is that state law prohibits university administrators, educators and campus law enforcement officials from lobbying the state legislature. These institutions are being “gagged” from speaking out about this dangerous legislation that directly affects their security and safety. The current legislation, House Bill 1893 and Senate Bill 1164 , exempts private universities, but strips the right of public colleges and universities in Texas from prohibiting deadly guns on campuses. Utah is the only state that forbids its public universities and colleges from restricting students with gun permits to carry firearms on campuses. Last year similar legislation was defeated in each of the 17 states where it was introduced.

John Woods, a student at Virginia Tech whose girlfriend was killed during the shooting and now a graduate student at the University of Texas, called the proposed Texas legislation an “insult” to the victims and survivors. “The fact that the Texas gun lobby looks at the horror of the Virginia Tech tragedy as an opportunity to push its deadly agenda is utterly disgusting and reprehensible to those of us who lost loved ones in this tragedy, and to those who survived as well.”

“The gun lobby is trying to hijack higher education in Texas, and across the country, to force public universities, against their will, to permit armed students to carry hidden guns in college classrooms. This is one of the most dangerous legislative agendas we have ever seen, and it needs to be stopped in its tracks,” said Andy Pelosi who heads the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus and is the Executive Director of GunFreeKids.org.

H. Scott Caven Jr. , the immediate past chairman of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, expressed concern over legislative proposals that would take away a public university system’s authority to determine its own weapons policies. “Our public universities should decide for themselves the best way to protect our students and faculty,” Caven said. “The UT System Police Academy trains its peace officers to handle law enforcement activities unique to campus environments. The more than 450 commissioned officers spread across the 15 UT institutions are trained to protect life and property. Permitting concealed handguns on a college campus creates more public safety challenges than it would prevent, and, therefore, is bad policy.”

Universities are already the safest places in the country in terms of low crime rates and violence because they don’t allow firearms on campus. Professors also say the possibility that a student might be carrying a hidden and loaded gun in class will greatly disrupt the college learning environment.

“This legislation is a solution to a nonexistent problem,” said Marsha McCartney, President of the North Texas Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “If our lawmakers would listen to the university presidents, campus law enforcement officials, students, and parents who oppose this legislation, they would know that our students are safest on college campuses because guns are prohibited. But if this bill passes, students will be exposed to the threat of gun violence, all because our legislators want to please the gun lobby.”

Arming students is ineffective at stopping a mass shooting. On Friday, April 10th, ABC News’ 20/20 investigative report demonstrated conclusively, through repeated tests, that armed students could not stop a rampage shooting even after being clued into the experiments . A real-life encounter would be even more surprising, disorienting and virtually impossible for armed students to defend themselves and others. In fact, ABC News concluded that an armed student or professor could easily kill or injure innocent students while attempting to flee or hide from an attacker.

Allowing guns on campus could also cost Texas universities money, students, donors and prestige. The legislation to arm students could easily push away thousands of parents and students from out of state who pay much higher tuition fees, especially when they have other universities to choose from. Several Texas parents said that they would not allow their teens to attend any university that permitted students to carry hidden and loaded guns on campus and threatened to boycott any public university in Texas if the legislation is enacted.

Still another grave concern is that college students, in an environment of great stress, would have easy access to guns, alcohol and drugs. These factors would likely lead to more suicides, unintentional shootings, murder-suicides and armed assaults.

“This issue goes well beyond Texas,” said Pelosi of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. “Arming college students across the country is the gun lobby’s next big target. There is every indication that they will try to steamroll their extremist agenda despite the fact that the American people strongly oppose it.”

The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus is building a national coalition of colleges and universities urging them to band together to oppose the gun lobby’s agenda to permit concealed guns on campus. So far 48 colleges and universities in 19 states have signed resolutions in support of the campaign, including three schools in Texas, a sign that momentum is quickly building.

View current list at www.keepgunsoffcampus.org .