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Community Colleges Leery of Guns on Campus

State Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has filed legislation to allow licensed handgun owners to carry concealed weapons on community college campuses. But some campus police fear it could actually put students and faculty in more danger.

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Ed Leathers has a concealed handgun license, and he believes in Texas gun laws. But as the chief of police for Collin College in the northern suburbs of Dallas, he is convinced that campuses are the wrong place for concealed handguns.

“Our officers are trained to go immediately to the location of where shots are reported to be fired, and they’re trained not to ask any questions but stop the person who they identify with a weapon” — and that could include a student or teacher who is trying to take down a shooter, Leathers says. If officers were to come upon a scene with more than one armed person, they wouldn’t be able to tell the good guy from the bad.

Leathers and other community college officials across Texas oppose a bill that state Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has filed that would allow licensed handgun owners to carry concealed weapons on campuses. While Taylor says his measure is meant to allow students to protect themselves, Leathers says it could put them in more danger. “There is a greater risk of more lives being lost if that bill passes,” he says. Other school officials say allowing guns on campus should be a local choice.

Lawmakers have filed several bills that would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry on college campuses. Although Taylor supports the broader measures, his bill would apply only to community colleges.

“They have typically older students, who go on and off campus more, that are less likely to live on campus, but have every right to defend themselves as any other American,” Taylor says.

Scott Lewis, an Austin Community College student and the Texas legislative director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, says he wants all Texas college campuses to allow licensed handguns, and that Taylor’s bill is a step in the right direction.

When a student at the University of Texas, a few blocks away, opened fire and then killed himself last fall, Lewis says, the issue hit too close to home. If there were a shooter on his campus, Lewis says, he and his classmates would be defenseless, because guns aren’t allowed.

“All we are doing with these state laws and school policies is stacking the odds against law-abiding citizens who might otherwise be able to defend themselves,” Lewis says.

Each community college ought to decide whether to allow guns on campus, says Steve Johnson, spokesman for the Texas Association of Community Colleges. The schools have locally elected boards of trustees that set college policy, and each individual college should have the ability to opt in or out, he says. 

Teri Fowlé, a spokeswoman for San Jacinto College in Houston, agrees and says San Jacinto College leaders would not be in favor of letting concealed handguns on campus. “If you have students who are constantly wary of who is carrying a gun and who is not, how does that facilitate education?” she asks.

Editor's note: After the story was published, Ms. Fowlé contacted the Tribune to stress that her views did not represent the college's official position and provided this statement: "The San Jacinto College Board of Trustees is aware of the bills moving forward in both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate related to allowing students and employees with a license through the State of Texas to carry concealed handguns on the College campuses. Although the College does not have an official position on this proposed legislation, San Jacinto College is committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment to our students, staff, and community."

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