Three Texas professors want to ban concealed handguns in class. They can’t.
The professors at the 50,000-student University of Texas at Austin — Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter — went to court to seek a preliminary injunction that would have allowed them to forbid students from carrying concealed weapons to class despite a new state law that gives some of them that right.
The new law went into effect Aug. 1, the 50th anniversary of a famous sniper attack from the top of the campus clock tower that left 17 people dead. It made Texas one of eight states whose legislatures have passed laws allowing weapons to be carried on college campuses by people with concealed carry licenses who are at least 21 years old. Officials at campuses in 23 other states are permitted to decide on gun-carrying rules, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Lee Yeakel, a U.S. District judge in Austin, refused to grant the injunction at a hearing Aug. 22 on several grounds, including a rejection of the professors’ contention that their academic freedom rights under the First Amendment were being violated. Yeakel also rejected their argument that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, quoting from an earlier case, saying, “[E]qual protection is not a license for courts to judge the wisdom, fairness, or logic of legislative choices.”
“It appears to the court that neither the Texas Legislature nor the Board of Regents has overstepped its legitimate power to determine where a licensed individual may carry a concealed handgun in an academic setting,” the judge said in his ruling.
The three professors filed their suit in July, hoping to win a preliminary injunction before classes started Aug. 24. Glass is the Barbara Bush professor of liberal arts in the Department of Sociology and a research associate in the Population Research Center; Moore is a professor in the Women’s Studies Department; and Carter is a university distinguished teaching associate professor in the English Department, as well as the 2010 University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teacher.
The UT-Austin community largely opposed the law, but it has prominent supporters, including Gregory Fenves, the university’s president; Ken Paxton, Texas’s attorney general; and members of the Board of Regents that govern the entire University of Texas system.
The three professors can still fight their case in court, despite the rejection of the preliminary injunction.
Gun rights supporters say that shootings on campus could be stopped if more people carried guns and were able to defend against assailants. Critics say that isn’t true, and that not only is it unlikely that an armed student could successfully prevent a mass shooting, but that numerous studies have shown that more guns always translates into more deaths and injuries.
Here are some facts from the National Council of State Legislatures about state gun laws regarding college campuses:
All 50 states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons if they meet certain state requirements. Currently, there are 18 states that ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Wyoming.
In 23 states the decision to ban or allow concealed carry weapons on campuses is made by each college or university individually: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
Because of recent state legislation and court rulings, eight states now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses. These states are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Not included in above list, Arkansas and Tennessee allow certain faculty members to carry weapons on campus but these laws do not extend to students or the general public.
Utah remains the only state to have statute specifically naming public colleges and universities as public entities that do not have the authority to ban concealed carry, and thus, all 10 public institutions in Utah allow concealed weapons on their property. Recently passed Kansas legislation creates a provision that colleges and universities cannot prohibit concealed carry unless a building has “adequate security measures.” Governing boards of the institutions, however, may still request an exemption to prohibit for up to four years. Wisconsin legislation creates a provision that colleges and universities must allow concealed carry on campus grounds. Campuses can, however, prohibit weapons from campus buildings if signs are posted at every entrance explicitly stating that weapons are prohibited. All University of Wisconsin system campuses and technical community college districts are said to be putting this signage in place. Legislation passed in Mississippi in 2011 creates an exception to allow concealed carry on college campuses for those who have taken a voluntary course on safe handling and use of firearms by a certified instructor.
Recent court cases have also overturned some long-standing systemwide bans of concealed carry on state college and university campuses. In March 2012, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the University of Colorado’s policy banning guns from campus violates the state’s concealed carry law, and in 2011 the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the Oregon University System’s ban of guns on campuses, allowing those with permits to carry concealed guns on the grounds of these public colleges (Oregon’s State Board of Higher Education retained its authority to have internal policies for certain areas of campus, and adopted a new policy in 2012 that bans guns in campus buildings). In both cases, it was ruled that state law dictates only the legislature can regulate the use, sale and possession of firearms, and therefore these systems had overstepped their authority in issuing the bans. See the “Guns on Campus: Campus Action,” page for more information on these rulings, board policies and other campuses that allow concealed carry on their grounds.