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UCLA Shooting Rekindles Campus Carry Debate

Supporters of Texas' new campus carry law say the shooting at UCLA exemplifies how banning guns on campus only deters law-abiding people. Opponents say it shows why guns shouldn't be allowed on campus.

Anti-gun protester Mark Sheridan leads a group of 250 members of the Modern Language Association-sponsored rally against campus carry on Jan. 8, 2016.

The news out of the University of California, Los Angeles on Wednesday chilled professors in Texas. A former pupil brought a gun to campus and killed a professor. 

But what the incident evokes in the context of Texas — where in two months a law goes into effect allowing students with the proper license to bring guns to class — depends on the observer. Opponents of the law say the shooting exemplifies why campus carry is such a bad idea, while supporters point out that campus carry is illegal in California and say Wednesday's shooting proves that banning guns at colleges doesn't do anything to prevent violence. 

Either way, the violence at UCLA re-stoked a debate that has been burning on Texas college campuses for a year as many professors and other opponents are once again protesting the rule, and gun rights advocates continue fervently defending the law. 

"It definitely hits very close to home for me and everyone I have spoken to in the UT faculty and staff," said Lisa Moore, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin, of the shooting. Authorities say Minnesota resident Mainak Sarkar took a gun onto the California campus to kill his former adviser, William Klug, before turning the gun on himself. Investigators believe that Sarkar, who reportedly worked briefly at the University of Texas at Arlington last decade, accused Klug of stealing his intellectual property. 

Professors at UT-Austin on Thursday were encouraging each other to wear orange to take part in a national protest against gun violence. On a popular Facebook page devoted to fighting the campus carry law, professors sarcastically discussed buying burnt orange bulletproof vests for the upcoming fall semester. 

But Moore said the shooting was scary because she and other professors deal with disgruntled students regularly. 

"I would say every semester I have at least one student who is shocked, upset or occasionally even angry over a grade," Moore said. 

Next semester, those interactions will be scarier, she said, because she will know that the student could have a gun. 

"This is something we just can't live with — quite literally," she said. 

But those views were dismissed as emotional and illogical by the other side.

"Every time there is a shooting at a supposedly 'gun-free' college or university, opponents of campus carry point to the incident as if it somehow proves the dangers of laws ... that clearly played no part in a shooting on a 'gun-free' campus," the group Students for Concealed Carry said in a press release Wednesday several hours after the shooting. 

"If this premeditated shooting at UCLA calls any policies or laws into question, it is the policies and laws denying law-abiding professors the means to defend themselves where they’re most vulnerable," the press release said. 

The group noted the news Thursday that Sarkar lived in Minnesota and began his alleged crime spree there. He drove across the country to UCLA. That narrative undermines the argument against campus carry, the group said. 

"This killer traveled 1,900 miles — the equivalent of crossing Texas three times — yet opponents of campus carry want to point to this incident as evidence that Texas professors would be safer if licensed students were still required to leave their guns in their cars," said Michael Newbern, assistant director of public relations for Students for Concealed Carry.

Moore, a member of the group Gun Free UT, disagreed. Any law that makes it more likely that someone on campus will be carrying a gun also makes it more likely that someone will use it, she said. 

"We don't need to make it easier for something like this to happen," she said. 

Either way, the Texas law will go into place on Aug. 1. Universities across the state have been working for months to create rules for handguns. Most policies have already been finalized. At public schools across the state, people will be allowed to carry handguns in classrooms, student centers and, in some cases, dormitories. The weapons will still be banned at sporting events, childcare facilities and certain research laboratories. 

Gun holders will need a concealed handgun licenses to carry their weapons. Those licenses are only accessible to people older than 21 years of age. 

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. Find a complete list of donors and sponsors here

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