On a hot August day 50 years ago, a man named Charles Whitman climbed the tower at the University of Texas-Austin and opened fire. He shot 49 people, murdering 16 of them.
During the hours-long attack, plenty of people went home and grabbed hunting rifles and engaged in a shootout before a police officer eventually made his way up the tower, where he finally managed to kill Whitman.
Fifty years to the day after that tragedy August 1, 1966, a law passed by the Texas Legislature went into effect permitting anyone with a concealed carry license to bring their handgun on public university campuses. The law's proponents say it makes college campuses safer. Critics call the legislation part of a broader effort by Texas Republicans to expand gun rights in the state.
Students showing up on public college campuses for fall semester will at some point likely encounter training from college administrators to understand the dos and don'ts of campus carry. University of Texas-San Antonio spokesman Joe Izbrand told us that the university spent July and August sending reminders to students about the law. And once students, faculty and staff show up for the fall semester, they will be required to take online training that will walk them through UTSA's campus carry policies.
Over at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, spokeswoman Cavett McCrary said the school's police department held a series of training sessions through July for faculty, staff and students. During the semester, the university will use social media to show students where they can and can't carry concealed handguns. Private colleges are allowed to opt out of the law. And all private colleges in the state have opted out, except for one.
However, concealed carry on college campuses is not a carte blanche deal. The law still allows school officials to carve out gun-free zones. At UTSA, residence halls and housing units are off limits to concealed carriers, along with labs that house dangerous and flammable substances. Counseling and health services centers are no-go zones for people packing heat, as are child care facilities, sporting venues and youth events. At Texas A&M-San Antonio, you cannot take a weapon into counseling centers, recreation and fitness centers, or into any facility leased by a third-party. Faculty and staff can ban concealed carry in private offices if the university's president signs off on it.
Just days before the law took effect, UTSA President Ricardo Romo changed course on an initial decision to not allow faculty with private offices to ban concealed carriers from bringing in their weapons. "When we reviewed the policies of other UT System institutions, and the feedback they received from the Board of Regents, we recognized an opportunity to further address the concerns of our faculty and staff while remaining compliant with the law," Romo said of the change of heart. There is staunch opposition to campus carry from faculty and students. The decision mirrors one made by UT-Austin regents who voted in July to allow professors to ban the concealed carry of weapons from private offices. Professors must give verbal notification and, if possible, provide written notification.
While campus carry is now the law of the land and it's unlikely that it will be repealed, three University of Texas-Austin professors filed a federal lawsuit against the school and the state in a desperate attempt to stop campus carry before the fall semester begins. Professors Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter filed the lawsuit in early July, alleging that allowing students to carry concealed handguns infringes on their First Amendment rights to academic freedom.
The professors' concerns rose because of the controversial subject matter they teach. For instance, Glass teaches about fertility and reproduction, meaning her classes sometimes touch on topics like abortion and unwanted pregnancy. She says she tries to generate debate on the subject matter to engage her students. Moore teaches a class called "LGBT Literature and Culture." She says she's already been accused by a student of pushing the "homosexual agenda" and says she has had other threatening students. "The possibility of guns in the classroom would only have exacerbated the deleterious effect on academic discussion and freedom for those in class," the lawsuit states. Carter's teaching includes debates about imperialism and power structures as they're related to sexuality and gender; Carter, too, says she has been threatened by students in the past.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, however, called their fears ridiculous and has asked that the case be dismissed. "There is only one apparent basis for their fear: Plaintiffs think the adults in their class who have been licensed by the State to carry handguns state-wide are ticking time-bombs who are likely to commit acts of violence if they are allowed to carry a handgun in class where they are exposed to the Professors' ideas. That is ridiculous," Paxton wrote in a motion to dismiss.
UT-Austin has joined Paxton in asking that the lawsuit be dismissed. The university says the professors have no standing to bring a federal lawsuit against campus carry because no federal law has been broken. "Because they have not been deprived of any constitutionally protected interest, Plaintiffs lack standing," UT-Austin's motion to dismiss states. The school also argues that the professors don't have a First Amendment right to challenge university policy, adding that the professors simply don't have enough evidence to prove that the presence of concealed handguns will stifle free speech in the learning environment. The professors likely face an uphill battle they probably won't win.