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Texas Tech Shooting Renews Debate About Guns on Campus

The Texas Tech shooting has reignited debate over a 2015 Texas law that allows licensed handgun owners to carry weapons on campus.
Image: Hemmle Recital Hall at Texas Tech University
Hemmle Recital Hall at Texas Tech University.Texas Tech University

The shooting death of a Texas Tech University police officer has renewed the debate over a controversial state law that allows students and faculty to carry concealed handguns on campus.

Police said Hollis Daniels, 19, "produced a gun" at the campus police station in Lubbock on Monday night and used it to shoot and kill a university police officer, Floyd East Jr.

Daniels fled the station and was later arrested after an hour-long manhunt, police said.

Although it isn't yet clear how Daniels was able to gain possession of a weapon, the shooting has reignited debate over SB11, a 2015 law commonly known as "campus carry," which allows licensed handgun owners to carry weapons on campus.

Lisa Moore, an English professor at the University of Texas in Austin, has been locked in a legal battle to overturn the law since 2015. Moore said incidents like Monday's shooting furthered the need to prevent students from being allowed to carry weapons.

Related: Authorities Identify Texas Tech Officer Killed in Campus Shooting that Suspect Called "Illogical"

"I think it's really important not to let our awareness of the loss and sorrow and grief that an event like this causes to distract us from the fact that it is preventable," she said. "Of course, this student had a gun with him because the idea that guns belong on college has been encouraged by our legislators."

As news of the shooting spread on social media Monday, the official Twitter account for Texas Democrats posted a message, since been deleted, linking the incident to the "campus carry" policy.

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, lawmakers later apologized for the tweet, saying it was published before "the full facts of the investigation" had been made public.

Christopher Smith, a professor of musicology at Texas Tech, said he believed concealed handguns had no place on college campuses, whether they were licensed or not. Smith said he was attending a student recital on campus Monday when he got an emergency alert from the university officials saying that the campus was on lockdown and that a gunman was loose.

Image: Hemmle Recital Hall at Texas Tech University
Hemmle Recital Hall at Texas Tech University.Texas Tech University

Smith and his colleagues immediately put the recital hall on lockdown and alerted the audience of about 400 students and guests as to why. He said his priority was to ensure that his students were protected from both the external threat and the internal threat from anyone who could have been carrying a concealed weapon.

"At one point, a young man became very agitated, and he stood and said: 'Who's got a gun? Are you ready?'" Smith said, adding that several people acknowledged they had concealed weapons.

"I went to the people who nodded and said, 'I suggest you keep your weapons concealed, because if the police enter, they won't be able to tell the difference between a good guy and a bad one.'"

Related: Texas Law Allows College Students to Carry Guns on Campus

Although he's a registered gun owner, Smith said he has been a vocal opponent of the "campus carry" law because of incidents like Monday's shooting.

"The last thing we needed was for a CHL to think someone was a threat and draw a weapon," he said, using the initials for a concealed handgun licensee. "It was extremely apparent that our safety protocols worked perfectly and that CHL had no role. Had they attempted to intervene, it would have materially increased the risk not only to others, but also to themselves."

Related: THINK: America Can Be Pro-Gun — and Pro-Gun Control

Michael Newbern, a spokesman for the gun-rights advocacy group Students for Concealed Carry, disagreed. He said the law was designed for dangerous incidents on college campuses because it gives licensed gun owners the ability to defend themselves and their peers.

"The right to self-defense should not come at that cost," he said. "The question isn't whether or not there are guns on campus. The question is if we only want the ones that are there to be illegal."

According to Students for Concealed Carry, a national advocacy group, eight other states allow legally licensed students to carry weapons and others have similar laws drafted.

Newbern said that in the aftermath of a shooting, licensed and responsible gun owners are often unfairly lumped with violent criminals. He pointed to a 2004 Harvard study that found no statistical link between allowing concealed weapons and an increase in homicides.

Moore said she believed East's death was "heartbreaking and infuriating" and vowed to continue to fight the law.

"We all want to be free, and we all want to be safe, and fewer guns, not more, is how that will happen," she said.