TX: Push grows for guns on campus http://www.news-journal.com/news/con...on_campus.html Push grows for guns on campus Local colleges say they're safe; senator expects debate in 2009 By JIMMY ISAAC Thursday, July 31, 2008 Weston Cartwright remembers his first week at LeTourneau University in 2006, and how he amazed his dorm mates when he returned unharmed from a walk to a South Longview restaurant. "They were like, 'Are you serious?' " Cartwright said. Since then, he's seen and heard why fellow students deemed a trip into the surrounding neighborhood such a serious mistake. The 20-year-old professional flight major said gunshots, some just a block away, can be heard at least three nights a week from his campus residence. Longview police spokesman Kevin Brownlee doesn't doubt Cartwright's estimate, considering there were reports of shootings in that area as recent as July 20, when fatal gunfire at a gas station one block from the university left one mad dead and another man injured. "I guess we've grown accustomed to it, which might be a more dangerous thing," Cartwright said from his hometown of Sewall's Point, Fla., where's he's spending his summer break. "You just deal with it because you don't have any way to defend yourself." He is among thousands of U.S. college students who want that changed. In a letter to the Longview News-Journal dated June 16, Cartwright called for colleges such as LeTourneau to allow licensed students and school staff to carry concealed weapons. It's a stance touted by Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a national group of more than 30,000 college students, faculty and parents who support concealed handgun rights on campuses. Cartwright, like the national organization, points to recent school shootings such as those at Virginia Tech University in 2007 and Northern Illinois University in May as evidence that allowing concealed weapons on college campuses is necessary. The Texas Penal Code prohibits people who aren't licensed peace officers from carrying firearms and other weapons on any school or educational institution whether public or private. The law gives colleges the authority to allow firearms on campus, but it's not clear whether that allowance can be given to individuals or the whole student body, said Terrence Turner, LeTourneau University's director of campus security. The Texas Attorney General's office found no court decisions that could provide legal opinions on how that clause is interpreted. Cartwright wants LeTourneau University to allow students to at least carry concealed weapons in their cars, but the university — like most East Texas colleges — maintains a gun-free zone. "That's been an ongoing conversation among students and even faculty and staff," said Doug Wilcoxson, the university's vice president of student affairs. "It's just been the legislation that we fall under." Utah became the first state to allow concealed weapons on state-supported colleges in 2007. At least a dozen states are considering such bills, and state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said he will introduce a similar bill when the Legislature convenes in January. Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, agree with the idea and said they will likely support Wentworth's bill. Texans must be at least 21 to get a concealed handgun license. Having older, more experienced students and faculty members — some who may have served in law enforcement or military duty — with concealed weapons might deter a school shooting in Texas, Wentworth said. "I just think it brings a measure of safety that does not currently exist on college campuses," Wentworth said in a telephone interview. "At least it would put on notice those wacky people who go on campuses because everyone is unarmed and defenseless." Texans for Gun Safety, a Houston-based group that seeks to reduce gun violence through education, does not support such legislation unless steps are taken to ensure mentally ill students or faculty are not carrying weapons. Tommie Garza, the group's executive director, said arming such students is the last thing any campus needs. "It just doesn't seem like a sensible plan," Garza said. "In a workplace or a school, emotions run so high there. (If a gun is off campus) at least you have that distance to cool off, think it over." Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old undergraduate, killed 33 people at Virginia Tech before committing suicide on April 16, 2007. He had been declared mentally ill by a Virginia special justice in 2005. In February, former Northern Illinois University student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire on that campus, killing five students and himself. His ex-girlfriend told CNN that he had stopped taking medication for anxiety, depression and insomnia three weeks earlier. Turner, whose 33-year law enforcement career included stints with the U.S. Air Force Security Police, the Arizona Highway Patrol and Longview Police Department, does not carry a firearm as director of LeTourneau's security force despite being a state-licensed peace officer. He credits rapid response time from Longview police as a reason for low crime on his campus, but he's not convinced LeTourneau will remain a gun-free environment. "I think we have to look at the contingencies both ways because the lawmakers are going to follow their constituency," Turner said. "We have to make sure we are prepared no matter the circumstance." * * * Crime on local college campuses Officials at LeTourneau University and Kilgore College say their campuses are safe. In its most recent crime data from the U.S. Department of Education, LeTourneau University saw an increase in burglaries in 2006 compared with the previous two years. There were 17 burglaries and three car thefts reported in 2006, compared with 16 burglaries and no car thefts in 2004 and 2005 combined. There were two aggravated assault cases and no other reported violent crimes during that three-year period, the data shows. Terrence Turner, the university's chief of campus security, said there have been one vehicle burglary, one residential burglary and one burglary of a coin-operated laundry machine reported to security personnel in the past year at LeTourneau. "What I can say is if you looked at our crime statistics, we are a very safe campus," said Doug Wilcoxson, the university's vice president of student affairs. "How do we keep our students and employees safe (is first and foremost). In the midst of this part of the community, we've been a very safe place." Kilgore College spokesman Chris Craddock said there have been no incidents involving firearms on its Longview and Kilgore campuses in the past year. The college has never authorized anyone besides campus and local law enforcement to carry any type of weapon on school property, he said. Since Sept. 1, Kilgore College has had reports of four assaults, 16 residential break-ins and 17 car burglaries, according to campus Police Chief Bill Lewis. There have been five car burglaries since surveillance cameras were installed campus-wide in December. Lewis said he would oppose letting students carry concealed weapons on campus. "We're a small college — about 5,000 students," Lewis said, "but could you imagine if just a tenth of our student body — 500 people — were carrying weapons?"