On Monday, the day victims of a tragic and terrifying UT Tower sniper attack will be honored with a memorial that has been 50 years in coming, Texas’ open carry law will go into effect. The law makes the open carrying of guns legal throughout the state, including on the University of Texas.
It’s lost on few, at least in Austin, that the law takes effect 50 years to the day—August 1, 1966—when engineering student Charles Whitman climbed the tower stairs of UT’s Main Building and began shooting at the people below. He stopped only after a fatal gunfight with two men, a police officer and a civilian, and he left 16 adults dead and 32 wounded, ending the pregnancy of a woman who survived. The shooting had lasted 95 minutes.
The repercussions of what at the time seemed like a new level of creating mass terror have been long and deep and endlessly analyzed. People on both sides of the gun law use the incident in defense of their arguments. Those in favor of open carry cite the people on the ground who went home, got their guns (notably, not on their persons), and shot back at Whitman. Those against it, of course, say it could lead normalize the presence of guns in the space and make mass shootings more likely, not less—not to mention heightening ambient anxiety and fear.
It’s interesting, though, that in all the years of obsession and debate, there was no official observation of the victims until 1999, when a small turtle pond and garden on the north side of the tower was dedicated to them after survivors asked UT administration for some kind of commemoration; the Tower Garden has been marked with a plaque since that time.
On Monday, the park will be rededicated, and a more substantial memorial with a list of those killed that day will be unveiled. The clock o the Main Building will be stopped at 11:48 a.m.—the exact time when the shooting began 50 years ago—and will remain stopped for 24 hours. The tower, often lit for school achievements and events, will be kept dark.