On the 50th anniversary of one of the deadliest campus shootings in U.S. history, which incidentally happened at the state’s premier university, a Texas law went into effect allowing students to carry guns into classrooms. Not everyone was pleased with the new legislation, however, least of all professors at the University of Texas. Three of them sued the school and the state, asking for the law to be overturned or to be allowed to ban guns in their classrooms.
Those professors were in court yesterday, arguing that permitted firearms in class would chill the free speech rights of both students and teachers. So how will those rights be balanced with the right to bear arms of others?
Lone Star Gun Laws
To be clear, the Texas law does not allow open carry on campuses, and only permits concealed handgun license holders 21 and over to bring handguns into classrooms. That cuts out a large portion of undergraduate college kids, as well as open carry, and professors can ban weapons from their private offices.
“There is no legal justification to deny licensed, law-abiding citizens on campus the same measure of personal protection they are entitled to elsewhere in Texas,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement this week. Both the state and the school are pushing back against the professors: Anna Mackin, an attorney for the university, argued that the school should be able to discipline or terminate professors who banned guns in their classroom, as they would be violating state law.
Don’t Mess With Educational Dialogue
The professors, on the other hand, contend that they touch on some testy issues during classroom discussions, and the thought of college-aged kids carrying firearms into those classrooms would inevitably alter those discussions. Their lawsuit claims, “Compelling professors at a public university to allow, without any limitation or restriction, students to carry concealed guns in their classrooms chills their First Amendment rights to academic freedom.” And Renea Hicks, a lawyer for the professors, told U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, “They don’t fear, they know that the presence of guns in their classrooms … would squelch (academic) discussions.”
When passing the bill last year, Republican lawmakers argued that the campus carry law could help prevent future mass shootings. But there is little evidence to support that claim. An armed veteran who was on Oregon’s Umpqua Community College campus during a mass shooting last year explained he didn’t get involved because “we could have opened ourselves up to be potential targets ourselves, and not knowing where SWAT was, their response time, they wouldn’t know who we were. And if we had our guns ready to shoot, they could think that we were bad guys.”
And the University of Texas’s own System Chancellor, former Retired Adm. William McRaven — who just so happens to be a former Navy SEAL who coordinated the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — lobbied against the campus carry law, telling lawmakers that allowing guns on campus would make them “less safe.” Classes at UT begin on August 24 and both sides are hoping to have an answer before then.