AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — This week's gunfire at a Houston-area college prompted new calls Wednesday for allowing concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into Texas college buildings and classrooms as a measure of self-defense.
Texas lawmakers already are considering a bill that allows concealed handguns in classrooms. A similar measure failed in 2011, but last month's shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., had already helped renew the debate over safety in schools, and Tuesday's gunfire at Lone Star College had supporters looking to rally more support.
Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who filed the Campus Personal Protection Act last week, called the Lone Star College shooting a prime example for the need for his bill.
"It affirms what we know is true: When you disarm law-abiding citizens that we ought to trust, we make them defenseless," Birdwell said.
The prospects for the bill's passage are uncertain in a session that began Jan. 8 and runs until Memorial Day. So far, 14 senators, all Republicans, in the 31-member Senate have signed on in support of Birdwell's bill. But in 2011, the measure was backed by a large majority in the House and Senate and Gov. Rick Perry, a concealed handgun license holder, before dying without a final vote at the end of the session.
College administrators have generally not supported the bill in the past, saying they worry more guns will spark more campus violence and suicide. Supporters call it a critical self-defense measure and guns rights issue.
"It levels the playing field," in terms of safety, said Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. "We have to allow people the option for self-protection."
And if the shooter at Lone Star College had turned the gun on others "and blasted folks ... I would have been thankful if somebody with a concealed handgun would have shot the people killing innocent folks," Campbell said.
Texas passed its concealed handgun license law in 1995. License holders must be at least 21 and pass a training course.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said supporters should "be careful about using an incident like that for political gain," Ellis said.
Ellis, who opposes the bill, said professors may be intimidated by students if they are worried about who may be armed.
"It's a tense atmosphere," Ellis said.
A volley of gunshots around noon Tuesday at Lone Star College prompted a lockdown then evacuation of the campus and set off worries that the campus could be under siege by a shooter. While some students huddled in classrooms for safety, others fled as soon as they heard the first shots.
"To stay where I wasn't an option," said Keisha Cohn, 27, who fled from a building that houses computers and study areas. All the students were eventually evacuated, running out of buildings as police officers led them to safety.
Authorities have charged 22-year-old Carlton Berry with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Officials say an argument between Berry and another man escalated into gunfire that injured them and a maintenance worker.
Richard Carpenter, chancellor of the Lone Star College System, said the campus is a gun-free zone that "has been safe for 40 years."
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has opposed the guns on campus measure, said the gunfire at Lone Star College is "yet another example that the gun lobby is out of touch with the American public, as they continue to push the false idea that more guns on our streets and campuses will solve the problem. As a nation, we know we are better than this."
The concealed weapons bill is just one school-safety related bill Texas lawmakers are considering this session.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has proposed spending state money to give teachers and other school personnel weapons and tactical response training. On Tuesday, shortly after the Lone Star College incident, three Houston-area lawmakers proposed allowing voters to set up special school safety taxing districts to raise money for armed guards and other security measures.
The Texas State Teachers Association and the Texas PTA have said they oppose arming teachers and that security should be left to professional guards and law enforcement.
Associated Press Writer Juan A. Lozano contributed from Houston.