Yesterday, three University of Texas at Austin professors sued over what they called the state's "overly-solicitous, dangerously-experimental" campus-carry gun policies.
Naming Attorney General Ken Paxton, UT President Gregory Fenves (even though he has vociferously opposed the law) and the UT Board of Regents as defendants in the suit, the professors seek an injunction that would block campus carry from going through before the school year begins. The law will allow students ages 21 and up to carry concealed handguns everywhere they are permitted on campus, and since UT is a public university, it is obligated to implement the law.
The professors argue that allowing guns in the classroom chills their First Amendment academic free speech and violates their 14th Amendment right to equal protection — in this case, they say, by forcing them to allow guns in their classrooms. Interestingly, they also say it violates the Second Amendment (we'll get there). In addition, they claim there is no rationale behind allowing public universities to prohibit guns in faculty offices, dorms and animal research facilities, for example, but not allowing individual professors to prohibit them in their own classrooms.
"As part of the learning process, they sometimes have to engage in difficult discussions of controversial, emotionally-laden topics," the lawsuit says. "It is inevitable that they will have to pull back, consciously or sub-consciously, at important junctures in classroom exposition and discussion."
Concealed campus carry is set to go into effect on August 1 — which, as the lawsuit notes right off the bat, is a "cruel irony": Exactly 50 years ago on that day, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the UT Tower and shot to death 43 people on the UT campus. Only private universities are allowed to opt out of the law — and according to the Texas Tribune's database, every single one has either opted out of campus carry or has not decided; only one opted out "with caveats." The Legislature allows universities to ban guns in specific zones of their choosing (see UT's subject-to-change proposal here) — but the only rule is that guns cannot be "generally prohibited."
As, for example, in all classrooms.
According to the lawsuit, one of the professors teaches a course on fertility that involves discussing abortion and unwanted pregnancies, and another teaches one called LGBT Literature and Culture in which "prejudices against those who are part of the LGBT community have sometimes made the class a target of hate." The professor offers this example: On the first day of class one year, a student said she had signed up so she could monitor the professor's "homosexual agenda."
"Ensuing classroom discussion and participation was dampened, and Professor Moore’s concern is that the dampening would have been even more pronounced if the possibility existed that the student 'monitor,' or, for that matter, some other student had been carrying a loaded gun," the suit says.
Curiously, it is this fear that there is no surefire way to know that gun carriers are responsible and trained that has also led the professors to argue that campus carry violates the Second Amendment. Yes, they are using gun owners' single most effective argument for campus carry in an effort to dismantle it. Thanks to both the lack of campus-carry regulations from the state as well as loopholes in the Concealed Handgun License permitting process, the professors believe that it runs against the clause of the Second Amendment that says the militia carrying the weapons must be "well-regulated."
Here's how they explain it: "The Second Amendment is not a one-way street. It starts with the proposition that a “well-regulated militia,” (emphasis added), is necessary to the security of a free state. The Supreme Court has explained that “well-regulated” means 'imposition of proper discipline and training.'"
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Which they don't believe adequately exists here in Texas.
Predictably, gun rights advocates are having a field day with this lawsuit. Students For Concealed Carry, for example, basically laughed off the suit as nonsense.
Its statement begins: "At best [the lawsuit] is a Hail Mary pass; at worst it is an attempt to manipulate the UT board of regents, which is scheduled to vote on the university's campus carry policies one week from today."
The University of Texas has been a frequent target of Students For Concealed Carry given that the school has been perhaps the loudest opponent of campus carry — and this lawsuit is yet another example. When school kicks off on August 24, thousands of UT students will be protesting the law by carrying dildos, an event they dubbed "Cocks Not Glocks."
*Update, 12:44 p.m.: Attorney General Ken Paxton has released the following response to the lawsuit: “This lawsuit is not only baseless, it is an insult to the millions of law abiding gun owners in Texas and across this country. The Texas Legislature passed a constitutionally sound law, and I will vigorously defend it. Adults who are licensed by the State to carry a handgun anywhere in Texas do not suddenly become a menace to society when they set foot on campus. The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed for all Americans, including college students, and must be vigilantly protected and preserved.”