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Ex-Virginia Tech Student Speaks Out Against Texas GOP Bill to Legalize Firearms on Campus

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Texas Republicans are using the recent anniversaries of both the Columbine High School and the Virgina Tech massacres to push a bill that would allow college students to carry firearms on campus. We speak to John Woods, a former Virginia Tech student who lost his girlfriend in the massacre. He’s now helping lead the fight against the bill. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: April marks the anniversaries of both the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres. They took place on April 20, 1999, and April 16, 2007.

Well, Republican state legislators in Texas are using the example of these massacres to push for a bill that would allow college students with concealed handgun permits to carry firearms on campus. They claim allowing responsible students and professors to secretly carry weapons will avoid a repeat of such massacres in Texas and make university campuses safer.

If the bill is approved during this legislative session, Texas will become the second state in the country, after Utah, that allows guns on campuses. In the past two years, nineteen other states rejected similar proposals.

My next guest is among those opposing the bill. He was a student at Virginia Tech during the 2007 shooting that killed thirty-three people. John Woods lost his girlfriend in that massacre. He’s now a graduate student at the University of Texas in Austin and a member of the Students for Gun-Free Schools. He joins us here in Austin.

Welcome, John. Condolences on losing your girlfriend in the massacre at Virginia Tech. Your thoughts then and now today with the Texas legislature taking up the issue of concealed weapons, so students at your school, at UT, could carry them?

JOHN WOODS: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on your program. And welcome to Austin. We’re excited to have you here at the University of Texas.

You know, our thoughts are mostly that students don’t want guns on campus. And this is, I think, something that’s actually being pushed by both Republicans and some Democrats. You know, Texas is sort of a very gun-friendly state.

But my principal concern beyond that, just on a personal level, has been that they’ve been marketing this issue with the Virginia Tech shooting. And I think that’s based on a misunderstanding of what actually happened in there. They haven’t — you know, they haven’t asked any survivors, or they haven’t even read the Virginia Tech Review Panel report, which, you know, recommends against allowing guns on campus. And every survivor that I’ve spoken to has said that guns would not have helped, that it happened too quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain exactly — people could just — you know, Howard Witt had an interesting piece in the Tribune, where he quotes a professor saying, “I’d be nervous to give a professor — to give a student a D or an F, not knowing whether he’s carrying a gun or not.”

JOHN WOODS: Yes, you know, absolutely. And I TAed last semester, because I’m a graduate student, and I — we caught a student cheating, actually. And we knew he had been cheating. But he became almost violently angry when we told him that we’d seen him cheating. And, you know, our concern — we don’t really get paid enough for that kind of thing. We’re not paid enough to be security. If people are concerned about school safety, and I think that they should be in some cases, then they should hire more police or, you know, other means.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the overall response on campus?

JOHN WOODS: Against the bill, against allowing guns on campus. Students are just overwhelmingly. And we’ve — you know, we’ve passed legislation through our graduate student assembly, through student government, twice now. The faculty council — we actually have like three faculty councils, and in the entire UT system, faculty advisory council has voted against. And now I think they’ve been joined by a coalition of faculty from thirty-six universities. So it’s not just at UT, but I think support for what we’re doing is pretty strong.

AMY GOODMAN: And at Virginia Tech, those who said, if they had a gun, they could have stopped this young guy who did this.

JOHN WOODS: Nobody has said that, as far as I know. In fact, most people I’ve talked to — just the other day, Colin wrote an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, where he said that, you know, he thought the shooter at first was a police officer who had come in to rescue them, and he never even saw him. He saw his feet. You know, and was he supposed to shoot somebody he thought was a cop if he had had a gun? And actually, you know, I think everybody’s story has sort of been consistent with that. It’s been it just happened too quickly; the only thing we could do was really close the door after he left.

AMY GOODMAN: On this anniversary of Virginia Tech, finally, your thoughts overall?

JOHN WOODS: You know, I applaud legislators. I applaud our lawmakers for talking about issues of school shootings or of school security, in general, because I do think that most Americans sort of plug their ears and go “la, la, la, la,” because they don’t want to think about the issue that some student, you know, losing it and murdering others. But I think this is the wrong way. And I think that there are lots of things we can do proactively, preventively — preventatively against school shootings. But bringing guns into a classroom, it’s reactive, and it’s not going to prevent anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, John Woods, I want to thank you very much for being with us, speaking to us here in Austin, Texas.

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