By Louis K. Bonham
As reported earlier, University of Texas-Austin President Gregory Fenves announced last week that despite all the angst and outrage from various campus quarters, UT would follow state law and permit the licensed carry of concealed handguns in campus buildings, albeit with some restrictions (including a general ban on residents carrying in on-campus dorms and a requirement that semiautomatic weapons be carried without a round in the chamber). And given that less than 500 UT students even have a license to carry, all the hoopla should largely be “much ado about nothing.” Matter settled, right? Hardly. Pass the popcorn, the show’s just starting . . .
Neither side is happy with UT’s decision. Asked for comment last week, campus carry law sponsor (and former Houston police officer) Rep. Allen Fletcher characterized UT’s proposed rules as a “half-hearted effort to comply” with the law. He called UT’s requirement of carrying without a round in the chamber “ludicrous.”
Students for Concealed Carry is similarly unsatisfied with UT’s restrictions. They’ve indicated that their next move may be to challenge the rules in court. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxson has weighed in as well, issuing an opinion that strongly suggests that some of UT’s proposed restrictions wouldn’t pass muster under the law.
Conversely, opponents of campus carry have argued that a law that permits the lawful carrying of weapons in classrooms somehow violates their free speech rights; open expression would be impermissibly “chilled” for fear that an armed student might do them harm. Previously, some members of the UT faculty issued a manifesto opining that the campus carry law was impermissibly motivated by racial animus. They were “looking forward to going to court” to resist the law. (After this manifesto received widespread publicity and derision, one of its authors removed it from where it had been posted. However, as we all know, the Internet is forever.)
Reached for comment, UCLA constitutional law professor (and Volokh Conspiracy lawblog founder) Eugene Volokh dismissed such arguments:
Whether or not allowing law-abiding students to carry concealed guns is a good idea, it certainly doesn’t violate the First Amendment. Public university professors have no constitutional rights to have certain people, or certain devices, excluded from their classrooms. Nor is there any race discrimination in allowing all law-abiding people, without regard to race, to have the tools needed for self-defense, both in the classroom and, especially, on the way to and from university buildings.
Writing at his megablog Instapundit, University of Tennessee constitutional law professor Glenn Reynolds was more direct, calling the free speech challenge to the law an “embarrassingly stupid argument.” But the real showdown may be whether some UT faculty carry out threats to defy both the campus carry law and UT’s implementation.
According to the Daily Texan newspaper, several hundred UT professors have signed a petition stating that they will refuse to have guns in their classrooms. In response, Governor Greg Abbott’s office issued a statement last year making clear that “[w]e expect that everyone at our universities—including the professors who signed the petition—to follow the law.” More recently, UT professor and Nobel Laureate Stephen Weinberg announced with great fanfare that “I will put it into my syllabus that the class is not open to students carrying guns.” Professor Weinberg declared that he was “willing to accept” the possibility that he may wind up in court over his pronouncement.
The sponsors of the campus carry law don’t appear amused by such threats. Reached by telephone, Rep. Allen Fletcher stated that faculty “do not have the right” to refuse to follow the law. Such refusals are “not going to be allowed.” Sen. Brian Birdwell’s office forwarded an earlier public statement by the Senator:
The Legislature will very appropriately be watching to make sure that our legislative intent is properly followed, and if not, I assume there will be consequences associated with that.
Both Rep. Fletcher’s and Sen. Birdwell’s office indicated that there would be legislative hearings this fall on the implementation of the campus carry. Asked to comment about faculty threats of defiance and the university’s response to them, UT Director of Media Outreach J.B. Bird e-mailed the following statement:
Like the other public universities in Texas, UT Austin is overseeing the complexities of implementing this new law. We will work to educate faculty, staff and students about the new rules. President Fenves has appointed a task force to implement the policies and it will review the types of questions you are raising.
We’ll see whether or not any UT faculty actually carry out their threatened defiance of the law, and what UT does in response. Of course, if the results aren’t satisfactory, the legislature could always consider a certain modest proposal.