Fifty years to the day after America's first mass college campus shooting took place at the University of Texas at Austin, a new law will take effect permitting students to carry guns to class at public Texas colleges.
Although the campus carry law represents a victory for gun advocates in the battle over allowing firearms on campus, the activists who pushed the bill see it as a defeat, while gun control advocates are lauding the measure.
Under the legislation, students who are at least 21 years old and licensed to carry a concealed firearm will be permitted to bring their guns on campus. However, the bill's original version was amended to allow college presidents to set limits on which buildings students can bring guns into. That was enough to prompt Students for Concealed Carry, a lobbying group pushing to permit handguns on campuses, to declare, "We've lost":
"As much as we dislike it, we must give the devil his due -- we got outplayed on every front," the group told the Houston Chronicle. "We're not happy about it, but we can admit when we've lost. We don't need to hide behind a gutted bill to save face. We'll try again in 2017."
The National Rifle Association tried to frame the Texas bill as a victory because it won't allow colleges to enforce "a blanket prohibition" of concealed carry on campus. (Open carry, in which a handgun is displayed openly in a holster, will still not be permitted on college campuses.)
On the other hand, pro-gun control groups celebrated the passage of the amended bill.
"The bill that passed in Texas was a significantly watered-down version of the original and the compromise gives universities broad discretion to keep their communities safe by deciding where and when it is appropriate to allow guns on campus," said Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. "Given the political climate in Texas, this was a major victory for gun sense. And is just the latest evidence of how we are changing the game when it comes to gun politics in statehouses across the country."
UT-Austin was home to the nation's first mass campus shooting on Aug. 1, 1966, when a student and ex-Marine engaged in a 96-minute rifle shooting spree from the top of the campus's iconic clocktower, killing 16 and wounding 32. Incidentally, the new concealed carry law will take effect in Texas on Aug. 1, 2016, exactly fifty years later.
Former Navy Admiral William McRaven, chancellor of the 15-campus University of Texas system who is best known for leading the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, had strongly voiced his opposition to the legislation and issued multiple warnings about its potential consequences. Allowing guns on campus has always proved wildly unpopular among faculty, campus police and college administrators, including in conservative states.
Everytown has lobbied against concealed carry on campus legislation in Texas and other states. The group says that so far this year, bills to force colleges to allow guns on campus have failed in 13 of the 18 states where they were introduced, not including Texas.