Friday, October 7, 2016


Ah, the good old days when “campus carry” evoked quaint images of the awkward boy shyly asking the cool girl, the cute girl with the sweet face, if he can carry her books to class.  (Cue the sock hop tunes of the 1950’s!)

Now the women on campus carry not only their own books but – if they so choose – a loaded weapon:  a gun.

In the “what were they thinking” department (more like “why weren’t they thinking?”), the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 1, the so-called “Campus Carry” law, authorizing “a license holder to carry a concealed handgun on or about the license holder’s person while the license holder is on the campus of an institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education in this state.”

(The only sentence of sanity is the one that follows:  “Open carrying of handguns is still prohibited at these locations.”)

The law authorizes universities, through their presidents, to designate campus locations where guns will not be permitted, laboratories, for example, but they may not opt their university out of “campus carry.”   Private universities may opt out, but only after an elaborate process of decision making informed by the opinions of faculty, administration, students, trustees and staff.

Guns on campus in the hands of anyone but trained law enforcement officers is a dumb idea:  so dumb it belies the very educational purpose of the university.  All the major private and independent universities in the state declined to allow guns on campus.  The universities and colleges our taxes pay for had no such sensible choice.

“Campus carry” has been opposed by

  • university administrators as an unwanted responsibility, as dangerous, and as expensive to implement (the legislature did not fund implementation), including arranging for storage, signage, informational materials and information sessions, training of staff and faculty in the parameters of the law and their authority regarding guns in instructional spaces)
  • university police for the expense of implementing and their responsibility in face of added dangers to campus safety
  • parents, all too aware of the potentially volatile mix of guns and alcohol, guns and partying, guns and youthful carelessness
  • women students, already at risk for sexual assault and the unlikelihood that sexual violence will be prosecuted,
  • faculty as a threat to the free and open flow of ideas OR who value their role as teachers, as mentors, as nurturers of ideas and inspirers of risk and exploration. 
  • A dean!  My hero is the dean of architecture at UT, who resigned just before the law took effect, explaining to his colleagues and the university administration:  "I felt that I was going to be responsible for managing a law I didn't believe in."

I have the privilege of teaching at a private university that is gun-free.  It was gun-free before the law.  The many committees and convenings required to let the state know we’re staying gun free showed just how unified the faculty, students, staff, administration and trustees are in keeping it that way.   But being “inside the hedges” as we say at Rice, gives us more responsibility – not less – to oppose this law and speak up on behalf of our colleagues at state universities, community colleges, and medical schools who may not feel as free to speak up.

We may find it difficult as teachers to teach our legislature much when the gun lobby is so powerful and the legislators apparently so insecure.   But if we value our colleges and universities as places for the free flow of ideas and for encouraging our students to take the risks inherent in learning, then we have no choice but to try. 

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