When the Texas Legislature decided to allow the licensed, concealed carry of handguns on the state's public university campuses, it gave the state's schools until the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year to get things figured out.
On Wednesday, the University of Texas at Austin finalized what campus carry will look like on its campus. Here are the big takeaways to expect when the fall semester begins on August 24.
Guns will be allowed in classrooms, but they will not be allowed in dorms. Professors will be allowed to ban guns from their offices but carriers on campus will not be required to carry their weapons with empty chambers, as would have been the case had the UT Board of Regents passed a proposal pushed by UT President Greg Fenves.
Texas gun rights activists and members of the board spoke out against the empty chamber provision, saying it was unenforceable and violated the spirit of the law. "You keep them loaded, because, if you need that firearm in an emergency, the last that's going to go through your mind is whether or not that thing's loaded," Open Carry Texas President C.J. Grisham said.
Paul Foster, the chairman of the board of regents, said that requiring that guns not have a round in the chamber could make carriers a target. "I do believe that an empty gun isn't a weapon, but an invitation to get hurt," he said.
Many members of the UT community say they are totally opposed to any guns on campus. Student group leaders paraded in front of the regents Wednesday to stress their opposition, and three teachers sued the school in federal court last week to stop any concealed guns from legally coming on campus.
The professors — Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter — make two primary claims. First, they say, the law has the potential to stifle classroom discussion, violating the First Amendment. They teach classes that deal with sensitive issues like reproductive and LGBTQ rights, and they claim that having guns in the classroom might stifle communication.
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UCLA Law Professor and constitutional expert Eugene Volokh dismissed that idea in a conversation with the Observer last week.
"The law doesn’t violate the First Amendment, because it isn’t at all targeted at restricting speech," he said in an email. "I’m skeptical about the plaintiffs’ claims that concealed carry by lawful license holders will materially chill people’s freedom of discussion. I don’t think it does in public places, and I don’t think it will in universities. But in any event that hypothetical risk isn’t enough to invalidate Texas’s decision about gun rights."
Nor does campus carry violate, as the professors claim, their Second Amendment rights, according to Volokh. (The part about arms being a right only for members of a well-regulated militia.) "The state has broad authority to allow carrying of guns, including by drawing lines that allow carrying in universities but not in some other places," Volokh said.
Unless Glass, Moore and Carter win the injunction they're seeking, legal concealed handguns are coming to UT Austin in August, whether the campus wants it or not.