Campus carry opposition raises concerns about suicidal students

UT Austin's campus carry working group held their first public forum (KXAN Photo)
UT Austin's campus carry working group held their first public forum (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Come August 2016, guns will be allowed on the University of Texas campus. The question is – where?

A group of 19 people held the first of two forums Wednesday night, to try to answer that question.

The group is made up of teachers, students, parents, and alumni.

On Wednesday, the community was invited to comment on where they believe guns should be allowed on campus. The overwhelming majority of people who came to speak oppose the new law, saying they don’t want guns in college classrooms, residency halls, and other areas on campus.

“If what starts here changes the world, be the change. Let’s change the out of control gun culture being forced on us.” said a UT professor. “President Fenves and working group, take up the power you have to take a stand for our community and against the legislators contempt of us.”

However, a few people in favor of the bringing guns to more areas of campus spoke as well.

“We are not vigilantes, we are not a danger to this campus, we are not the bad guys you read about in the news,” said law student, Justin Stone. “I do not want to have to use my firearm, but I am not afraid to do so.”

Another issue brought up by a doctoral student is suicide rates in college students. According to the university’s counseling and mental health website, suicide is believed to be the second leading cause of death for college students.

UT Austin Professor Ellen Spiro believes more guns won’t help bring those numbers down. She believes it’s an issue people need to be talking about more.

“I’ve had a student in my office that expressed suicidal feelings to me once, and my first question was, do you have a gun? We walked into the mental health center and I made sure he went into the door to get treatment—if he had a gun I don’t know what would’ve happened.”

She says this wasn’t her first time encountering a student with severe depression and suicidal feelings, and her colleagues have seen it as well.

Last March, campus police were called out to reports of a suicidal student on campus. The student was armed with a gun, but police were able to disarm them before taking their own life.

“I think the issue of suicide and mental illness and the presence of guns is the biggest issue, and it’s also the hardest to talk about,” said Spiro. “It’s already a volatile situation – you have alcohol, experimentation with all kinds of things, sleep deprivation, and you don’t need guns in that mix, it’s absolutely terrifying.”

She has joined the more than 150 teachers who’ve signed a petition to forbid guns in their classrooms.

Spiro hopes the law will be repealed and, in the meantime, hopes the working group will impose the strictest interpretation of the law.

“We’re going to have a challenge ahead of us, but we’re committed to undoing that law as soon as we can,” said Spiro.

One of her students also believes guns don’t belong in the classroom. “Most people I talked to are opposed, but they have given up on the cause,” said Lilian Smith.

Smith has long opposed the law, because her grandmother was in the UT Tower during the 1966 mass shooting. “She told me the about the scene and how everyone was super scared, and it was so sudden.”

On Thursday at noon, Gun Free UT will be holding a rally opposing Campus Carry. It will be held at the West Mall.

The working group’s second public forum will be held Monday October 5 from 3 to 5 p.m.

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