Texas professors sue the state to keep students from carrying concealed weapons on campus

In just three weeks, on August 1—the 50th anniversary of Charles Whitman climbing the University of Texas tower and shooting 14 people to death— a Texas law goes into effect that allows anyone, including students, to carry concealed handguns on campus, including inside classrooms. Great idea, right? Well, it’s Texas, Jake! The students need permits for their concealed carry, and the campus is allowed to designate a limited number of “sensitive areas” where guns aren’t allowed, though those areas must be approved by the institutions board of regents. You’re also not allowed to store weapons in automobiles.

At the end of January, I reported that Steven Weinberg, a physics professor (and, of course, a Nobel Laureate) at the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) said he would defy the ban, prohibiting students from bringing guns into his class. Given the law, he’ll probably lose, but it was gutsy. So when I heard this week that three UTA professors had sued the state to keep guns off its campus, I assumed Weinberg would be one of the plaintiffs.

He wasn’t, but no matter. The three professors are Jennifer Lynn Glass, a professor of sociology, Lisa Moore, a professor of English, and Mia Carter, an associate professor of English.  The grounds for their lawsuit? According to the Washington Post, it’s that the Texas pro-gun law forces UT “to impose ‘overly-solicitous, dangerously-experimental gun policies’ that violate the First and Second Amendments, as well as the Fourteenth (see today’s Hili dialogue). You can see the full copy of the lawsuit here.

“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,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint also cites the Second Amendment, which is usually used by gun-rights supporters to bolster ideas such as campus carry.

“The Second Amendment is not a one-way street,” it says. “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.’”

The complaint adds: “If the state is to force them to admit guns into their classrooms, then the officials responsible for the compulsory policy must establish that there is a substantial reason for the policy and that their regulation of the concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses is ‘well-regulated.’ Current facts indicate that they cannot do so.”

The professors also claim that the law violates the 14th Amendment, which promises equal protection under the law.

Sadly, this looks like a loser given current law. The professors are free to express their opinions, and if their willingness to do so is chilled by the possible presence of guns, well, so is anybody else’s in a concealed carry state, or even an open carry state. The Supreme Court has rejected the “militia” interpretation of the Second Amendment to favor the “right” of all citizens to have guns—an opinion that I think is deeply misguided but remains the law of the land. They’re invoking the Fourteenth Amendment because the professor claim they’re not afforded “equal protection of the law” given that there are many places where concealed handguns are not permitted in Texas.

The defendants include Attorney General Ken Paxton, the UT Austin President, Greg Fenves, and the entire nine-member board of the UT System Board of Regents.  The attorney general responded on Twi**er:

An “insult”!  Paxton is an ass.

I’m not sure how this dumb law is supposed to make the campuses safer—presumably because all those gun-carrying students could fight back if a Charles Whitman figure ever invades the campus again. As for me, I’m glad that the University of Chicago prohibits all weapons. Who knows what a petulant creationist could do?

54 Comments

  1. Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I am glad I am retired. It is hard enough to stand in front of a large group of college students and teach. I can’t imagine how nervous I would be if I knew they were armed.

  2. alexandra moffat
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    “homeland security” is a big banner waver for the pols but with all the guns loose in the land, there is little security. The more guns, the less security. Isn’t this a possible “war” between the 2nd amendment and some other, like the 4th? Clever constitutional lawyers ought to be able to figure out some way to present a conflict between the 2nd as now applied and our rights to be secure. The Supremes must have noticed the carnage and maybe would welcome a case that would allow for real gun restraint??

  3. rickflick
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    “Paxton is an ass.”

    Direct and to the point.

  4. Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Guns help students understand astronomy while illuminating the path to curing cancer.

    • Alexander
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Well, guns might help getting good marks on exams, or even prevent flunking.

      • Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        And guns bring new meaning to student responsibility terms such as assignment deadlines and campus engagement.

  5. Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Forgive a minor quibble: UTA refers to University of Texas Arlington, the second largest campus in the UT system. The University of Texas campus in Austin is simply referred to as UT.

    The University of Texas system is so expansive that the UT abbreviations are hard to keep straight.

    I would fully support a professor walk-out protest.

  6. Richard Bond
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    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 a campus.

    He is quite correct. They are a potential menace anywhere.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      That’s almost exactly what I was going to say. They don’t “suddenly become a menace,” they’re already a menace.

      I bet almost every man with a hidden handgun has a fantasy about pulling it out and being a hero in an active shooter situation. The reality would actually be much different. The gunman already has his gun out and as soon as he sees someone reach for a weapon, he would turn the gun on that person – the gun would just make him more likely to be a target. Further, the more guns, the more innocent people who are likely to be caught in the crossfire.

      Carrying a concealed weapon should require advanced training, and getting a licence should require personality screening along with other screening.

  7. Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    If gun carry makes a place safer, how come we go to so much trouble to keep guns off airplanes?

    • Alexander
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Well, a hole in the fuselage would be bad for maintaining air pressure. What else?

      • Posted July 9, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        I can imagine a raging firefight would be a bit more scary in a crowded airplane than a crowded classroom, but not that much. A bullet would need to take out a window to cause explosive decompression.

      • eric
        Posted July 9, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        Yes, and hole in a person is bad for them. The pro-carry position is that if many of us carry guns, there will be fewer holes put in people. That “logic” would apply to airplanes too – if it worked, which is doesn’t – so I think Darwinwins has a valid point. If someone is the sort of person who thinks more guns leads to less gun-holes in things, then they should support the notion of more guns on planes. Anything else is hypocrisy.

      • Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

        This seems to be the main issue here. Unless you have metal detectors at the door, declaring an area “gun-free” doesn’t make it magically so. Besides, it is not feasible (or desirable) to let the TSA control university entrances.

        In my view, the best state of affairs would be that guns are allowed, but the majority of students choose not to have one on them. In this way, a “crazy” person will have a hard time choosing targets since they know anyone could be armed and their glorious murder-suicide media-attention-seeking plan could vaporize in a matter of minutes.

        Maybe the best course of action would be not to make much noise about these kind of laws and not make it an ideological battle. Focusing on training is a good thing too.

        • Posted July 10, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

          Good point. Similar to the “If guns are banned, only criminals will have guns” argument. (That is not meant disparagingly, since I do think it is a valid argument.)

    • Scott Draper
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      You’re talking about two different sets of people. Open carry people would doubtless argue their rights should extend to airplanes, too.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      I’m sure that prohibition is on the NRA’s to-do list. They honestly believe that there should be no restrictions anywhere. Except at their own conventions.

  8. Scott Draper
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Another problem with the open carry law is that demonstrated by the recent events in Dallas: when the bullets start flying, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

  9. somer
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Funny how fundamentalist religious are often so keen on guns and draconian punishments for violent crimes they more or less encourage. They are so anti evolution yet their behaviour is so apelike. More reasons to evolve to something better yet instead they try to corrupt the places where reform might start.

    • Alexander
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Apelike? Are monkeys known for gratuitous cruelty? I don’t think so. Gods are, starting with the “god the father,” getting his son tortured to death to fix his own faulty creation.

  10. Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood the well regulated militia argument. Imagine if instead of guns we were talking about cars, and the amendment said “A well regulated transportation system being necessary for the economy of a free state, the right of people to keep, and drive cars shall not be infringed”. Would we really be arguing that only people who need cars to get to work, or go shopping should be allowed to own, and drive them?
    The idea with a militia is you have a gun in case you are called upon by the state in time of emergency to take part in a militia.
    That being said I completely oppose guns, and don’t think anyone who doesn’t need one should have one.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      But cars are well regulated, you can’t own and operate one without a legal title and a license to drive.

      And as to the definition of a militia, again the Constitution did not define it. In 1789, that was indeed the purpose, so that a military force could be quickly assembled. But that has since evolved into the National Guard, which is well regulated. Any random group of private armed citizens would not be regulated at all.

      • Posted July 9, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        “But cars are well regulated, you can’t own and operate one without a legal title and a license to drive.”

        Yeah, but cars aren’t a right in the constitution. I used cars as an example because it’s understandable why someone should own one IN CASE they need one.
        At the time of the constitution a militia amounted to all able bodied men who came running when the call “the British are coming” went out. How could they come running with their guns if they didn’t own one.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Please let me help with the understanding. You have to go back and look at the time, roughly 1787-1789, after the constitutional convention in Philly. The press was on to get 9 states to ratify this thing so a government could begin. One of the many worries from the anti-federalist was the “standing army” idea. This new federal government would establish a standing army and that is bad. Look at Britain with that standing army.

      So, when getting this bill of rights thing done as practically the first job to do once the first congress met, Madison wrote this one along with several others. Some did not make the cut and some were edited. Promoting the idea of a Militia was good thinking on Madison’s part because he was trying to appease all of those anti-federalist and get this damn bill of rights over and done with. Keep these anti-federalist from calling another convention to make a bill of rights and do other things to screw up the constitution.

      So what does he open with – To insure a well-regulated Militia. That will get them, they will love it. Make note of the Militia and say absolutely nothing about an evil standing army. Everyone is happy and Madison can do some more important work in congress.

    • Jonathan Livengood
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me that the automobile analogy is really helpful for seeing how the well-regulated clause is supposed to work in the case of guns. Consider: (1) Having a well-regulated transportation system would mean having designated places for driving and strict rules for how the driving is done. It wouldn’t be a good system if people could legally drive *anywhere they wanted*, like through your front yard or on the sidewalks, or if people could legally drive any *way* they wanted, like any speed, stopping or not at intersections, passing where they like, and so on. The analogy in the case of guns is that time, place, and manner restrictions make sense. (2) Having a well-regulated transportation system would mean having restrictions that could be placed on what sorts of vehicles could be driven. For example, one might require vehicles to be governed at a reasonable maximum speed, one might require vehicle emissions standards, one might require mileage standards, one might require that vehicles operated on certain roads (like interstates) be capable of a certain minimum speed, etc. The analogy in the case of guns is that some kinds of guns (or ammunition) could be reasonably regulated with the purpose of the amendment in view. For example, it might be that handguns are not required for a militia and so could be banned outright. (3) Having a well-regulated transportation system would mean having some reasonable exceptions for people that really ought not drive. For example, it would be antithetical to a well-functioning transportation system to have blind people driving. The analogy in the case of guns is that some people could be excluded based on attributes that run counter to the purpose of the amendment. For example, mentally unstable people, people with avowed interest in overthrowing the government, and so on could reasonably be barred from owning guns.

      So your analogy is really helpful, I think, in seeing why the well-regulated part of the amendment matters and the extent to which gun-absolutism is unreasonable.

      • Posted July 9, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        The differences in this analogy must be amplified as well. After all, a gun is a prepossessed artifact design specifically “to kill stuff” with greater efficiency. It adds no essential value to social flourishing other than to compensate for disparity of force caused by the very fact of its existence.

      • Posted July 9, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        “So your analogy is really helpful, I think, in seeing why the well-regulated part of the amendment matters and the extent to which gun-absolutism is unreasonable.”

        I don’t think the second amendment precludes us from putting restrictions or regulations on guns in any sense other than an outright ban. We have the right to free speech, but you can’t directly incite violence. Many rights are limited, or revoked for individuals for public safety reasons. Having the right to bear arms IMO doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be required to register your weapon, or undergo training in it’s use, or be prevented from carrying it certain places.

        • Jonathan Livengood
          Posted July 9, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

          Then I’m not sure what it is about the “well-regulated militia argument” that you claim not to understand. In the transportation analogy you offer, there are obvious, reasonable restrictions to be placed on who can own or operate a vehicle, on when and where one can operate a vehicle, and on what sorts of vehicle one can own and operate. If you accept analogous points with respect to guns, what is it that you don’t understand about the well-regulated militia argument? Is it that you don’t think those points follow from the well-regulated clause? Or that they would hold without that clause? I don’t understand your lack of understanding. 🙂

          • Posted July 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

            “In the transportation analogy you offer, there are obvious, reasonable restrictions to be placed on who can own or operate a vehicle, on when and where one can operate a vehicle, and on what sorts of vehicle one can own and operate.”

            And I would agree the same is, or should be true. where guns are concerned. The problem as I see it is the argument many make, that the right is meant only to apply to people who are part of an organized militia. The idea is that people should have the right to have guns so that when a militia is needed people who want to join have them.

            • rickflick
              Posted July 9, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

              I think it means if you’re not a complete idiot, but maybe just an alcoholic hell raising asshole, we’ll trust you with a one-shot-per-minute musket while the British red-coats are attacking. After that, it’s back to the plow.

              • Posted July 9, 2016 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

                “I think it means if you’re not a complete idiot, but maybe just an alcoholic hell raising asshole, we’ll trust you with a one-shot-per-minute musket while the British red-coats are attacking. After that, it’s back to the plow.”

                Which is an excellent reason the amendment should be repealed, or fixed, but otherwise we’re stuck with the forefather shortsightedness where that was concerned.

      • eric
        Posted July 9, 2016 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        There’s a better analogy: the federal government’s patent and copyright powers. Not only are they mentioned in the Constitution (unlike driving), they come with a preamble similar to the 2nd amendment. Here you go:

        To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries…

        That preamble sounds very structurally similar (even if the subject is different), doesn’t it? Which is probably not all that surprising, since the same small group of guys wrote both.

        Soooooo….the money question now is whether the courts or Congress has ever seen the preamble as limiting patent and copyright law. I.e., do the courts ever stop a copyright if they think it doesn’t ‘promote the progress of science and useful arts?’ The answer, AIUI, is no. The preamble is considered explanatory (“here’s why you have this power”) rather than limiting (“you can only use it for this”). So while I’m all for more gun control, I think in terms of how we’ve interpreted preambles in the constitution in general, the pro-gun side is right to say that the 2nd’s preamble should not be interpreted as limiting. The logic is: we have at least one other preamble to a right, and we don’t interpret that one this way, so why interpret the 2nd’s preamble this way?

    • Filippo
      Posted July 9, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      I find myself wondering; IF the word “regulated” did not mean in 1787 what it means now, what word did they use to mean “regulated” as we mean it today?

      I wonder if Antonin Scalia had any pearls of constitutional interpretation to offer on “regulated.”

      • Posted July 9, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        “I find myself wondering; IF the word “regulated” did not mean in 1787 what it means now, what word did they use to mean “regulated” as we mean it today?”

        It means the same thing it’s always meant. What the second amendment doesn’t mean is that you have to be part of a well-regulated militia to have the right to bear arms. It’s simply saying that in order for a well regulated militia, which is necessary to exist, people must have the right to bear arms.

      • Posted July 9, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        It meant disciplined, according to these Oxford English dictionary phrase from
        1709:
        “If a liberal Education has formed in us well-regulated Appetites and worthy Inclinations.”
        1812:
        “The equation of time … is the adjustment of the difference of time as shown by a well-regulated clock and a true sun dial.”

  11. Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    The Charles Whitman shootings at my alma mater, UT, would not have been stopped sooner if others had guns. It would probably have devolved into chaos since his bullets seemed to come from nowhere.

    Whitman was well-trained as a marksman, and would certainly have been given a gun permit if this had been a requirement.

    • Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I just read the Wikipedia account, and it seems the police credit armed civilians for forcing Whitman to be more cautious in his shooting. On the other hand, one armed civilian accompanied police to the top of the tower, where his gun accidentally went off, removing the element of surprise.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted July 10, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        I’m skeptical that his belief that fellow students were armed could have changed his tactics at all. He would have hidden his weapon on the way to the tower regardless. Would a gun nut whip out his gun at the sight of another gun nut?

  12. Eddie Janssen
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I am not familiair with the details of the law (I am from the Netherlands) but is anyone who carries a concealed weapon and is asked by a member of the public whether or not he/she is carrying a concealed weapon obliged to give an affirmative answer to that question?
    And is their a punishment on not telling the truth?

  13. Filippo
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Maybe for starters, the profs should bring dildos and vibrators to class and prominently display them. Surely they have no less a right to do that.

  14. mikeyc
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    “The Supreme Court has rejected the “militia” interpretation of the Second Amendment to favor the “right” of all citizens to have guns”

    Is that correct? It was my understanding that the Supremes restricted that finding only to constitutionality of owning handguns for the purpose of home security. IOW, I think that decision is narrow enough to say that they did not interpret the 2nd to mean that we have the right to any gun, anywhere or any time.

    I may very well have misunderstood that case though.

  15. Posted July 9, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Requirements for Concealed Weapons permits vary from state to state. Some states only authorize concealment in their state. Some have reciprocal agreements with other states. If one has a permit from such a state with reciprocity, it is legal to carry a concealed weapon in all those states. I don’t know if training is required in all states but I do know it is a requirement in some. If anyone is interested, I’m pretty sure all the details can be found on the internet.

  16. Posted July 9, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Re Texas: I have often thought that Texas should be given back to Mexico. Or, maybe the fence constructed along the border with Mexico to keep out “wetbacks” should instead be built around Texas to keep the rest of us safe from
    the cultural aberrations that seem so prevalent there. Just joking, Texans!

  17. Posted July 9, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    “I’m not sure how this dumb law is supposed to make the campuses safer—presumably because all those gun-carrying students could fight back if a Charles Whitman figure ever invades the campus again.”

    Can’t you see the shootout? It’ll be the showdown at the OK Carroll? Americans have gone totally bonkers — well, a lot of them.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted July 10, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Good luck to responding cops trying to figure out which are the “good guys with a gun” and which are the “bad guys.” (Answer: everybody with a gun thinks he’s a good guy)

  18. Art
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I think most of the gunslingers will be males, further proof of “WEIT.”

  19. Hempenstein
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    How about open-carry? Is that prohibited there?

    Esp if so, someone should carry an 18th-Century musket into a classroom, concealed as much as possible, which would probably be no more than 50% concealed, and see what happens then.

  20. JBaldwin
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    We would never have seen such ridiculous laws such as “campus carry” but for the equally ridiculous “gun-free zone” regulations. Neither of which will have a significant effect on the number of guns possessed at any given time in any given location.

  21. Claudia Baker
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    “Americans have gone totally bonkers”. It sure looks that way from up here in Canada. The ease with which everyone talks about “open carry” and “concealed carry” is terrifying to me. FFS, how the hell have things gotten to this point?

    • Alexander
      Posted July 10, 2016 at 1:44 am | Permalink

      What about tasers? Can you carry them “open” or “concealed” ? What about air planes, tasers don’t make holes, so are they allowed on planes?

  22. Kevin
    Posted July 10, 2016 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Paxton has no concern for human life. Students have no ally in that man.

  23. Chaswalder
    Posted July 10, 2016 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    I find it ironic that a “safe space” with rules against specific words can no longer include a rule against concealed handguns.

  24. ladyatheist
    Posted July 10, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I predict an exponential rise in the average GPA at UT


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