Valley residents divided in gun debate - Valley Morning Star : Local News

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Valley residents divided in gun debate

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Posted: Saturday, April 27, 2013 8:36 pm

A recent poll found more South Texas College students are against concealed handguns on campus than support the idea, but it remains to be seen whether packing heat on campus will become a reality.

For the last few legislative sessions, Texas lawmakers have filed bills that would allow concealed handguns on college or university campuses. Two such pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 182 and House Bill 972, remain in committee.

The survey, conducted by the college’s Student Government Association

in direct response to House Bill 972, found 65 percent of students oppose allowing concealed handguns on campus. Of the college’s 30,000 students, 558 participated in the survey.

Meanwhile, the McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party Association hosted the Texas school superintendent this past week who created the “Guardian Plan” — a policy that has allowed some teachers to carry weapons at the rural Harrold school district since 2007.

“The general consensus is that students would feel unsafe, and many worry that it would affect their everyday life on campus,” said Denisse Carreon, president of the college’s student government at the Mid-Valley campus, according to a statement about the poll released Monday. “Of course, there are those that are for concealed handguns on campus, but they are in the minority.”

The college was the site of a fatal shooting more than a decade ago said Paul Varville, the college’s director of safety and security. In 1998, two people believed to be in the country illegally targeted cashiers as they accepted tuition money, he said. The men shot and killed an armed security guard after he drew his weapon. Varville said the suspects fled to Mexico and have not been caught.

Still, Varville and officials at the University of Texas-Pan American confirmed the campuses have already expressed their opposition to allowing concealed weapons.

Varville said the college sent a position paper to state legislators on the matter.

“What we said to them was we believe it would not increase safety on campus and it would be more likely to increase violence or collateral harm and could create potential liability and administrative costs for higher education institutions in Texas,” he said.

The college does not have campus police, but Varville said security personnel see student altercations over parking spaces, fights over romantic relationships and domestic violence — all scenarios that could be exacerbated if a party involved is carrying a gun.

He said there are also concerns others on campus could be collateral damage if gun owners haven’t undergone as rigorous training as police officers. The last time legislation to allow guns on campus was brought up, it was a close vote, he said.

“We really are unsure if it will be able to pass this year,” Varville said.

University President Robert Nelsen said he is opposed to guns on campus. This year, university faculty senate, staff senate and student government all passed resolutions expressing the same sentiment, he said.

Nelsen cited the kidnapping of a student last year as an example why.

“If somebody had pulled a gun at that point and tried to do it, there would’ve been carnage throughout the whole parking lot,” Nelsen said. “I have professional police on my campus. They do carry guns. I don’t need faculty to carry guns.”

GUARDIAN PLAN

This past Wednesday, Harrold school district Superintendent David Thweatt spoke to about 20 people at Church of the King about his district’s Guardian Plan.

“In 1990, we basically hung a sign on all of our schools that said: ‘Here are our most precious possessions in the world and they are not going to be protected,’” Thweatt said of the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act.

The small, rural district about 180 miles northwest of Dallas adopted the policy in October 2007. It allows teachers approved by the school board to obtain concealed handgun licenses at the district’s expense, as well as extra training and ammunition. While on campus, the select group of teachers must have possession of their guns at all times and must use a certain type of ammunition designed to prevent collateral damage.

“Schools are easy, because basically we have a sign that says: ‘This is a safe place — for you to come and kill,’” he said.

Thweatt said advantages of the Guardian Plan include backup for security guards, the anonymity of a concealed handgun, protection for all entrances and cost savings. Thweatt said the salary of one security guard for a year is the same amount the district spent on training more than 20 “guardians.”

“He has common sense that we don’t see in politics today,” McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party Association Vice President Jo Ann Bannworth said while introducing him.

Thweatt cited America’s changing views on guns, saying as the country moved from a predominantly rural nation to becoming more urbanized, the culture became less “do it yourself.”

“We consider ourselves first responders,” he said. “I think this is one of the big elements of why they’re upset with us in the liberal media and those that do oppose the Second Amendment; how dare we take our protection upon ourselves?”

‘IT’S JUST FEAR’

The current bill in the Texas House allows campuses to opt out if students, faculty and staff are first consulted. While the bill does not allow colleges and universities to make regulations that prohibit carrying on campus, they could regulate the storage of guns in dorms or other living facilities. Institutions may also prohibit guns on grounds owned, leased or operated on campus, as well as university hospitals and preschools, elementary schools or secondary schools on campus.

On Friday afternoon, Jesse and Emily Briones spent the lunch hour at South Texas College. They are university and college employees, respectively. The couple said they both feel safe at their workplaces and are against allowing guns on campus for several reasons.

Emily Briones said there’s too much room for error if a weapon is lost or stolen on campus, especially because the campus is open to the public, including to families with young children. She said focus should be placed on helping prevent school shootings by providing mental health resources to those in need.

The push for guns on campus is driven by horrific tragedies like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school that left 27 dead in Connecticut last year and the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three, Jesse Briones said.

“It seems like it’s just fear with everything that’s happened in the

news lately. It’s not just one thing,” he said. “Just by allowing

guns, it’s not necessarily going to fix that problem and if it’s just

to make people feel safer, I think that’s just a personal problem.”

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