Dallas History

Remembering the Texas Tower Shooting

Fifty years to the day after Charles Whitman climbed the Texas Tower, campus carry becomes law.

Via towerdocumentary.com
Via towerdocumentary.com

Peter Simek wrote a masterful post about the mystique of the lone gunman the day after the July 7 shooting of five officers in Dallas. He addressed the tragedy of mass shooters, who often believe they have a purpose but whose violent acts accomplish nothing more than murder and panic, loss and grief. Because a senseless act can only have a senseless outcome.

On Monday, the specter of the lone gunman will again be raised. August 1 is the 50th anniversary of the UT Tower Shooting, when Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old architectural engineering major and ex-Marine, killed his wife and mother before carrying three rifles, two pistols, and a sawed-off shotgun to the top of the University of Texas Tower. At the end of 96 harrowing minutes, 16 people were dead and three dozen were wounded.

Micah Johnson, the Dallas shooter, was a 24-year-old Army vet. Also like Whitman, he obtained his firearms legally, without difficulty. Unlike Whitman, he was able to use Facebook to find an AK-47 for sale, which he purchased in a Target parking lot in Carrollton for $600.

August 1 also happens to be the day SB 11 goes into effect, allowing the concealed carry of guns at public universities across Texas. Teachers like Seema Yasmin, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, have expressed concerns. A self-described gun lover, Yasmin argues that guns have their place, and the classroom isn’t it:

“The gun range was my sanctuary. Just like my classroom is my sanctuary, a safe space where my students and I poke and provoke and put the world to rights,” Yasmin writes. “In spite of my brilliant marksmanship, disarming a gunman should be the job of law enforcement, not college professors. I never wanted my two sanctuaries—the gun range and the classroom—to overlap. Not even in Texas.”

On Thursday, August 4, the Angelika Film Center will screen Tower, a documentary by Austin filmmaker Keith Maitland. Ten years in the making, it premiered at SXSW in March. There will be a post-film Q&A with the director and survivors, including Claire Wilson James, who at the time of the shooting was an 18-year-old freshman from Dallas. She lost her unborn baby and boyfriend. Another senseless act. Another senseless outcome.

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