Call it signs of the times. After news spread that a man armed with an automatic weapon had opened fire at the University of Texas at Austin campus, two other universities — Texas Tech in Lubbock and the UT Medical Branch in Galveston — canceled tests of emergency procedures designed to deal with just that kind of incident.
UT math student Colton Tooley fired the weapon several times, apparently at no one, before fatally shooting himself inside one of the UT libraries on Sept. 28. Sadly, such occurrences no longer are unusual. Other incidents include a 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University, in which 32 people died, and a 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University that left six dead.
So universities have taken steps to deal with such events. UT employed an emergency notification system, in which alerts went out to some 70,000 e-mail addresses and mobile phones that had signed up for the service.
Tooley’s rampage took place on the same day an advocate for allowing guns on campus was scheduled to speak at the UT law school. The incident revived discussions about whether students should be able to carry guns to class.
Advocates point to the growing frequency of such events, and note that at times a person has had time to shoot several people before police were able to respond. Other armed students might be able to respond and shoot the antagonist before too many people are harmed, the advocates argue.
It’s worth noting that one of the first such on-campus attacks took place at UT in 1966, when Charles Whitman, a student and court-martialed Marine, went to the observation deck in the administration building’s tower and began shooting people.
News reports of that event indicate that several Austin residents went home, got their hunting rifles and started returning Whitman’s fire. Law enforcement officials at the time credited those people for limiting Whitman’s ability to keep shooting and likely saved many lives. The return fire also enabled two police officers to get to the tower undetected, go up to the observation deck and shoot the attacker.
But should students take weapons to class? Would a shootout with an armed attacker save lives or put more people at risk?
Several law enforcement officials have voiced opposition to students carrying weapons, and it’s understandable. If one person brandishes a weapon and others draw theirs in response, who’s to know which of them is the bad guy? Officers arriving on the scene would have to consider every armed person as a potential suspect; could they fire on someone who had sought to stop the initial shooter, rather than the attacker himself?
Students shouldn’t have to worry about such things. Unfortunately, however, these attacks are a reality, and the merits of allowing weapons on campus can’t be tested until somebody pulls out a gun and starts firing.
It’s a sad necessity that universities have to consider these things, and they are right to take whatever steps they can to inform and protect as many people as possible.