Justin Stake of Students for Concealed Carry writes [via Ammoland.com] –

The August 1, 1966, sniper attack at the University of Texas at Austin bears little resemblance to more-recent campus shooting sprees (e.g., Virginia Tech and Umpqua Community College). Rather than walking from classroom to classroom, executing victims, the shooter used a scoped rifle to pick off victims from an elevated position. Police officers on the ground quickly realized that their handguns were of little use against a sniper barricaded in a tower . . .

Of all the college massacres that have occurred in the U.S., the UT tower shooting is among the least relevant to the current debate over legalizing the licensed concealed carry of handguns on college campuses, aka “campus carry.” However, anti-campus carry advocates are now twisting one element of this tragedy, trying to use it as evidence that more guns invariably equal more problems.

Within the past year, anti-campus carry activists have begun claiming that the citizens who used hunting rifles to return fire at the UT sniper prevented first responders from reaching wounded victims on the ground. This claim, which seems to have first appeared more than 48 years after the shooting, comes from Claire Wilson James, the first person shot during the attack.

Last February, James testified before the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs, in opposition to Texas’s then-pending campus carry legislation. During her testimony, she made the now widely repeated claim that armed citizens impeded her rescue.

In an interview conducted a few weeks after the Senate committee hearing, James said, “I’ve heard from the police that stopped the shooter that day that the armed citizens actually made the situation more dangerous and put the people who were trying to save us at risk.”

This claim doesn’t show up in other accounts of the incident, and the same interview includes some rather bizarre statements from James. She says, “We need to have a universal background check before someone can carry a concealed weapon”; however, in reality, an applicant for a Texas concealed handgun license undergoes state and FBI fingerprint and background checks that far exceed any proposed universal background check system.

She also says, “The shooter aimed for the chest of his victims … to kill them, but he aimed at my stomach” (James was eight months pregnant at the time; her baby did not survive); however, the shooter, who shot James from an elevated position while she was moving, was killed in the standoff and never had a chance to tell anyone where he was aiming.

James’s claim that the armed citizens impeded first responders is contradicted by other eyewitnesses (including Ramiro Martinez, one of the three police officers who, along with an armed citizen, stormed the tower) who credit the armed citizens with preventing greater loss of life.

One of the most comprehensive collections of eyewitness testimony on the UT sniper attack is “96 Minutes,” a 2006 ‘Texas Monthly’ article by Pamela Colloff. In the article, Colloff shares the accounts of numerous eyewitnesses, including James. If James said anything to Colloff about the armed citizens impeding her rescue, Colloff–who dedicates several paragraphs to eyewitness accounts of the armed citizens–neglected to include it in the article.

Colloff does, however, include this quote from Bill Helmer,  a writer who was a graduate student at UT-Austin when he witnessed the shooting: “I remember thinking, ‘All we need is a bunch of idiots running around with rifles.’ But what they did turned out to be brilliant. Once the sniper could no longer lean over the edge and fire, he was much more limited in what he could do. He had to shoot through those drain spouts, or he had to pop up real fast and then dive down again. That’s why he did most of his damage in the first twenty minutes.”

Claire Wilson James’s story, like the stories of the other victims from that day, is tragic. The story of hunters stepping up to assist an outgunned police force (at that time, Austin had no SWAT team, and officers did not routinely carry rifles in their squad cars) is an intriguing historical footnote. However, neither the tragedy that befell James nor the actions of the armed citizens who tried to stop the shooter has much to do with a law allowing the licensed concealed carry of handguns on Texas college campuses.

Whereas the UT sniper attack lasted 96 minutes, a typical shootout (the kind not involving an assailant firing from a highly elevated, fortified position hundreds of yards away) lasts only three to ten seconds. Whereas one witness to the sniper attack recalled, “It seemed like every other guy had a rifle,” Texas Department of Public Safety statistics suggest that the rate of concealed handgun licensure among Texas college students is less than 1%.

Unlike the armed citizens who rushed toward the UT tower, Texas CHL holders are taught to move away from danger and avoid interfering in any incident that doesn’t already involve them. Although the armed citizens who responded to the UT sniper attack were free to rush about campus with their rifles on full display, Texas’s new campus carry law will requires CHL holders to keep their handguns concealed until and unless they encounter an immediate threat (the sound of gunshots in the distance does not constitute an immediate threat).

Given that Claire Wilson James’s account seems to be the only eyewitness account suggesting that armed citizens impeded the rescue of victims, and given that James apparently didn’t begin making this claim until the Texas Legislature began considering campus carry legislation, the claim seems dubious at best.

And given that the UT sniper attack was not the type of attack against which a CHL holder might easily make a difference and that the armed citizens who responded with rifles were not CHL holders (Texas didn’t begin issuing CHLs until 1996) and had likely never received instruction in how to handle such a situation, this incident is a very poor indicator of how campus carry might impact a campus shooting.

About Students for Concealed Carry:

Students for Concealed Carry (SCC) is a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization comprising college students, faculty, staff, and concerned citizens who believe that holders of state-issued concealed handgun licenses should be allowed the same measure of personal protection on college campuses that current laws afford them virtually everywhere else. SCC is not affiliated with the NRA or any other organization. For more information on the debate over campus carry in Texas, visit WhyCampusCarry.com.

For more information on SCC, visit ConcealedCampus.org or Facebook.com/ConcealedCampus.

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22 Responses to Armed Citizens and the 1966 University of Texas Sniper Attack [VIDEO]

  1. I have a story about this event. My father was on campus during the shooting, inside the Welch building (next to the tower) working, and never heard anything. My mother was bringing him lunch, she worked on campus over at the law library, and was stopped by the police cordon. She heard the pops walking over and never realized they were gunshots until she reached the cordon.

    Terrible tragedy, but wholly unrelated to the issue of campus carry.

  2. I think it is very relevant. It shows that citizens with the correct tools can fill-in the gaps the police can not cover.

    In the UT sniper shooting the gap was lack of the correct tools by police. In other cases and where campus concealed carry is concerned it will be the gap of not being able to station an armed police officer in every building, much less every class room.

    By The Way: All the talk has been (especially among the anti’s) focused on the students. By far, the mostly likely beneficiaries of concealed campus carry will be the professors, faculty, and staff. Most students will not be eligible for a concealed carry license, most university employees will be eligible. Teachers are far more exposed individually than any given student simply based on the number of people they interact with on a given day.

    The teachers should be lobbing for concealed carry, but here is a dirty secret of UT, or maybe not a secret, anybody that wants to be considered for tenure is going to keep their mouth shut if they are pro-carry, supporting it will kill their chance for tenure, and for the non-tenure staff, it could get them quietly fired (i.e. contract not renewed) if they voice support. Academia is a bitch.

    • That’s probably true, as the new UTexas chancellor, retired Navy 4-Star Admiral William McRaven, is anti campus carry.

      It’s a crying shame that UT has become a bastion of Liberalism in an otherwise Conservative state.

      • Johnnie, your comment could just as easily apply to Austin as a whole. It is the liberal island in a sea of Texas conservatism. I studied the Tower massacre as part of my military training many years ago. This is the first time I’ve heard anyone say the armed citizens were an impediment. At the the time they were considered a Godsend. Revisionist thinking will not change the facts, and this woman’s willingness to co-opt the truth is yet another sad chapter in her tragic life.

      • It’s more like a liberal archipelago here. Texas suffers from the same big city liberal bastion problem that many states do.

        All of our four major cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin) are all liberal controlled. The suburbs and exurbs outside of them and the rural areas in between them tend to be conservative.

        Wherever you have a high concentration of extremely wealthy people, you’re apt to have a preponderance of elitists who think their spectacular success means they’re uniquely equipped and entitled to decide for everyone else.

        Wherever you have a high concentration of poor people, especially minorities, you’re apt to have a bitter, resentful constituency who believes the “system” is rigged and that they’re entitled to whatever scraps the ruling class snatches from the productive class on their behalf and tosses their way.

        Both of these groups dominate typical big city population and they all vote liberal.

    • What probably slowed first responders is the problem of getting to her with-out themselves getting shot. In that sense, the armed citizens who suppressed the sniper probably speed-up her rescue and might have even saved her life.

      • Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!!! We have a winner.

        Those students who returned fire at the sniper in the tower were providing suppression fire. Had those students not returned fire, the sniper would have had the unfettered opportunity to kill dozens more … and finish off anyone who lay wounded on the ground.

        And as commented, rescue crews stayed away because the sniper could easily shoot them as they tried to pick-up a wounded victim and haul them away. A dead rescuer isn’t good for anyone.

        • They weren’t just students, pickups were racing to the scene from all over town, all with a couple rifles in the back window. That was Texas, in 1966.

  3. The Bogdanovich film Targets has a “sniper” scene loosely based on the Texas Tower and Whitman. It shows “regular armed citizens” grabbing weapons from their vehicles to confront the shooter.

  4. IMHO, her claim doesn’t even make sense. How can people shooting at an elevated position a hundred yards away impede first responders at the ground, proximal to the shooters?

    • First responders wet their panties, hide under truck and ignore pleas for help due to cowardice. Is anybody admitting that happened?

  5. Back in the 90’s at least, the UT ROTC department had a plan in case someone tried this again. In their armory they kept 2 M2HB’s with tripods and ammo, just in case. A friend of mine in ROTC there at the time had to lug one across campus.

  6. She’s being Gabby Gifforded – Sock-puppet for the (D)NC

    Check her hind end for the current wrist, it’ll be connected to the current gun-grabbing satan’s evil house of blue (D)head who doesn’t give a cr_p who they need to exploit or manipulate to forward their agenda.

  7. And then there’s Allen Crum, an armed citizen who stormed the clock tower with the police. The Austin massacre is probably the worst argument one can make against campus carry.

  8. I may be dating myself, but I remember the incident. The American Rifleman had several stories about the riflemen who fired at the sniper, one of whom I believe went with an officer onto the tower to rush him. I seem to recall that the sniper left a box of ammo on the wall surrounding his position atop the tower, and one of the civilian rifleman managed to hit it, figuring that that would make it clear to the sniper that if he stuck his head up for a shot, the rifleman could hit that, too.

  9. Welcome to the Instalanche readers!

    And this claim of non-cop/EMT first responders at the incident in question being a problem, rather than a (large) part of the solution, is bull-poop. There are many detailed stories about this incident, and only the later revisionist history versions say anything about this “problem.”

  10. Colorado has allowed concealed carry at colleges since 2003. There have been no incidents involving a gun on a college campus in the 12 years since the law took effect.

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