A law to allow guns in more places at the University of Texas system will increase campus safety because criminals will have to worry about being stopped by a licensed and trained person with a concealed weapon, supporters of the measure told a forum on Monday.
But opponents at Texas' flagship university in Austin say the new law will increase the danger on campuses and could not prevent mass killings like the one last week in Oregon, faculty and students.
Next August, under a law approved by the majority Republican state legislature, people 21 and older with a concealed handgun license can carry handguns in classrooms and other buildings at the University of Texas system, one of the nation's largest with an enrollment of more than 214,000.
"I can't believe that if that classroom in Oregon had had concealed weapons holders in there, that it would have necessarily saved anyone," said faculty member Martha Hilley.
Licensed holders have been allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus, but not in buildings, for 20 years, the university said.
More than 300 faculty members signed a petition saying they will refuse to allow guns in their classrooms. One told the forum he is worried about discussing grades with a student packing a pistol. Others said the law could lead to more suicides and rapes.
Staff member Tina Maldonado supported the law, saying concealed handgun license holders are law-abiding members of society and could prevent a repeat of Oregon.
"There was no one licensed to carry in any of those classrooms, no one to protect themselves against that monster," she said.
The community college where the Oregon mass shooting took place prohibits firearms on college property "except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations." But students and others said many students carried guns despite the ban.
The Texas law takes effect on Aug. 1, the 50th anniversary of the killing of 16 people by student Charles Whitman, who fired from a perch atop the Austin campus's clock tower.
University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, a retired Navy admiral who led the U.S. Special Operations Command and organized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, has questioned the law.
"There is great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals age 21 or older, will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds," he wrote to lawmakers.
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