Concealed carry at UT-Austin sparks discourse and protest

By Kira Margoshes

For the University of Texas at Austin, the concept of a safe space has taken on a literal tone. Starting this August, students 21 and over with concealed handgun licenses will be allowed to carry concealed handguns while on university property, including in class.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 11 last June, making Texas one of just nine states that have implemented the policy of concealed carry. Concealed carry on campus has already been implemented in Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin.

Handgun

(Courtesy of James Case / Flickr)

Two camps loom large: those for, Students for Concealed Carry- UT Austin, and those against,  Gun-Free UT.

Faculty have also shown their discontent with this legislation. Daniel S. Hamermesh, a prestigious professor of economics at the Royal Holloway University of London and at the University of Texas at Austin, has chosen to resign.

“I could not believe what misguided action it was. I was horrified they’re basically allowed everywhere,” said Hamermesh, reflecting on when he heard the news S.B. 11 had been passed.

Hamermesh’s main concern is the possibility of violence breaking out in the middle of a lecture.

“This hurts public education,” he said in a phone interview. “It will drive students to private schools.”

Hamermesh said that the law would make potential faculty think twice before accepting a position at UT.

Joan Neuberger, history professor at the University of Texas at Austin organized a petition against concealed carry for faculty to sign.

“Guns don’t belong on university campuses,” she said in a phone interview. “It’ll change the dynamic in the classroom if we don’t know if there is a gun in the classroom.”

Neuberger said she was surprised that the bill passed, considering all the opposition against it. Come August she said she will be less worried about a mass shooting than “an accidental discharge.”

Another hurdle faculty members say they are facing is their syllabi. Neuberger said that she “absolutely” feels the need to revise her syllabus with this incoming policy.

“Those teaching more controversial topics feel especially vulnerable under this. Since the law passed, students, teachers and parents have been vocal about this, with an overwhelmingly opposed viewpoint.”

“It really changes the nature of the classroom,” she said.

Students against concealed carry speak up

The matter of concealed carry isn’t as cut and dried as one might think. The two main groups representing both sides of the issue are UT Austin Students for Concealed Carry and Students Against Campus Carry.

“I just got to UT this year, and I had no idea this legislation was even being considered. I was really angry and disappointed when I first heard because this directly affects the student body and faculty and I feel as though neither were consulted in this deliberation and we have essentially been victimized,” said Ana Lopez, 19, of Austin in a phone interview.

“There is no situation where having a concealed handgun is safe.”

“The majority of faculty and student body is opposed,” she said. “I came to UT to exercise my liberal political beliefs and be myself, and as a minority female I am at risk in regards to next semester. I won’t feel safe on campus. Had I known that this was going to be considered, I would have gone to an out-of-state college.”

Despite her views, Lopez understands that not everyone comes from the same place. Even though she grew up in a gun-free home, she understands that others have not and that may be part of why they hold so strong to the way they were brought up. However, she isn’t convinced that more guns are the answer. Rather, they’re the problem.

“I don’t feel safe by someone who has a concealed carry license. It’s so easy to get a CHL [Concealed Handgun License]. I could get a CHL, and I would not trust someone like myself in the case of a mass shooting to save lives.”

“There is no situation where having a concealed handgun is safe,” she said.

Concealed backers: “It’s our right!”

The debate goes beyond the borders of Texas. Logan Olson, local director of Students for Concealed Carry at Montana State University said, “I think it would really just take the target off the university’s back. Just knowing there are armed civilians roaming around the campus you’d never know where they’re going to be. I think that’s a huge deterrent against bad people wanting to do bad things.”

Not oblivious to the opposition to concealed carry on the campus at Montana State University, Olson is no stranger to hitting roadblocks when it comes to this cause. Olson said that the administration in particular is not interested in the idea of concealed carry.

“I can appreciate the boundaries between professors and myself, but when it comes to the administration I was probably kicked out of eight offices looking for a sponsor for our club,” according to Olson.  

“Concealed carry weapons permit holders are some of the most law abiding citizens in the world,” he said.

Olson later added, “I think the administration should be held accountable for any death or injury that might occur in the case of an active shooter if that administration disallows individuals from protecting themselves on campus.”

This discontent is echoed by Daniel Bellerive, director of Students for Concealed Carry at the University of Alaska Anchorage who said, “Bearing arms is our second amendment right. If we don’t exercise it, it will make it easier for the government to take it away.”

Following the death of UT freshman Haruka Weiser, the discussion of concealed carry has become omnipresent in conversation. Students for Concealed Carry has issued a statement that said this “should serve as a wakeup call to university administrators who seek to handicap LTC [license to carry] holders on campus.”

Protesting with a big “stick”

Not all have responded to the concealed carry controversy through traditional channels. Jessica Jin, a recent graduate of UT, is calling on all students to carry sex toys (specifically, dildos) around campus in protest to concealed carry. Jin, who, according to her Facebook pagewill be known as ‘dildo girl’ for the rest of my life,” has organized the carry (dildo) protest to kick off Aug. 24, 2016, with Jin at the helm.

“The captain goes down with the ship, right?” she said in a phone interview.

Since she first put up the event as a joke with her friends, Jin has been inundated with messages and media requests. 

“Maybe a better ‘misconception’ is that supporters of this protest and also Gun Free UT community want to take away students’ only chances of survival,” Jin added. “People have different definitions of safety, but the good thing about this battle against the proliferation of guns in the general public taking place in the university setting is that universities have the power and ability to do the research and make informed, well-defended arguments about the societal impacts of legislation like this,” she said in a Facebook message.

“And people complain about this protest being absurd and nonsensical and obnoxious, but I would argue that people should feel the same way, if not more, about campus carry,” Jin said.

Campus (dildo) carry has over 10,000 confirmed attendees for the event.