A shooting that left three people wounded on a college campus near Houston may add fuel to the U.S. debate over tighter limits on firearms, which took on new life after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre.
President Barack Obama has challenged Congress to revive an assault-weapon ban, bar access to high-capacity ammunition magazines and require gun-buyer background checks. At a Jan. 16 event, he announced his proposals surrounded by children who wrote to the White House following the Newtown killings. Fellow Democrats say the slayings there created a political opening.
In Texas, Tuesday's shooting on a Lone Star College campus near Houston began as a fight between two people and involved at least one handgun, according to Major Armando Tello of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Two “persons of interest” in the incident, both men, are hospitalized and under armed guard, said Alan Bernstein, a department spokesman.
“With the shootings at Newtown, Connecticut, and elsewhere fresh on our minds, we remain vigilant about the aching need for students of any age to feel safe in their classrooms and other facilities,” Sheriff Adrian Garcia said in a statement.
Six adults and 20 youngsters in first and second grade died in the Dec. 14 Newtown massacre, shot by a gunman wielding an assault-style semiautomatic rifle with high-capacity magazines.
The incident Tuesday in Texas appears to have started as an argument outside the school library between the two “persons of interest,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. It said criminal charges may be brought against one or both men, adding that at least one was armed.
The three victims were taken to nearby hospitals by Harris County Emergency Corps, according to Mark Smith, a spokesman for the service. One was in critical condition and was sent to Ben Taub Hospital, while the other two went to Northwest Houston Medical Center, Smith said.
The third victim, described as a campus maintenance worker, was wounded in the crossfire, Tello said.
“It appears he was an innocent bystander,” the major said. He said an investigation is continuing and no arrests have been made.
One of the two people involved in the fight was carrying student identification, Tello said. He said he couldn’t identify either “person of interest.”
In Austin, state Senator Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican, said the Lone Star shooting didn’t alter his views on the need for legislation he filed last week, with 12 cosponsors, that would let licensed individuals carry concealed handguns on college campuses in Texas. A similar bill failed to pass during the previous legislative session, in 2011.
“This legislation is about ensuring that law-abiding citizens are able to defend themselves,” Birdwell said in a statement. “It’s about trusting citizens with their rights.”
At Lone Star after the shooting, Lariza Rosa, a 20-year-old student, said she was on the third floor of the campus library when she heard five consecutive gunshots ring out.
“It was crazy,” said Rosa, who was getting a ride home because her car was stranded by a campus shutdown in the aftermath of the incident. “I’m still jittery.”
Chemistry student Froylan Solis, 25, heard several shots at about 12:20 p.m. local time, then looked out of his classroom window and saw a group of students huddled around someone lying on the ground. Police and paramedics weren’t there, he said.
A fourth person was also taken to a hospital after the shooting, although not because of gunshot wounds, said Niky Smith, spokeswoman for Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Service.
The campus is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of downtown Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city by population. Total enrollment at the six campuses making up Lone Star College is about 90,000, according to its website.
The school was set to reopen Wednesday, according to the sheriff’s office.