Professors Argue Campus Carry Could Promote Self-Censorship

A new lawsuit filed by UT-Austin professors says having guns present in the classroom will make them watch what they say and restructure how they meet with their students.

By Michael MarksAugust 9, 2016 11:26 am,

Texas’ campus carry law has been in effect for a little over a week now and after months of research and planning, schools across the state are now implementing the law. But the dust hasn’t completely settled – a court battle could change the way the law is applied.

Three professors from the University of Texas at Austin have sued to keep guns out of their classrooms. They say that people are more likely to censor themselves if they know that those around them might have firearms.

That argument doesn’t fly with the university and the state of Texas. They’ve both asked the judge in the case to throw the lawsuit out. So what does it mean for how the campus carry law is implemented?

Matthew Watkins, who covers higher education for the Texas Tribune, says it’s a “long shot” that the lawsuit will succeed in repealing campus carry.

“This campus carry law is not new,” he says. “Other states have similar laws … eight states in total. And none of those have been shot down by the courts. So the state, the University of Texas, felt pretty good coming into this case that they will prevail.”

Professors have brought up the argument of restricted speech with guns present, but Watkins says he’s never heard the argument in court. At a hearing last week the judge and lawyers admitted this was a new line of argument against campus carry.

“The professors might be hoping that this is something they can take farther than the district court level,” he says. “They might see it in appeals court.”

Watkins says everyone involved recognizes this case is “uncharted water.” The law doesn’t say anything specific about whether guns are allowed in classrooms.

“Every university in the state, every public university, has interpreted the law to say that guns must be allowed on campus,” he says. “The actual language of the law says universities can create some ‘gun free’ zones on campus but it can’t have the general effect of making it impossible to carry your gun.”

As the school year approaches, instructors are building their syllabi and Watkins says the professors in the case have said they’ve changed their curriculums to avoid topics that may make students censor themselves.

“Most professors maybe aren’t necessarily happy with what’s going on, but they’re going to continue doing what they’re doing,” he says. “But there’s a small number who are afraid enough about this that they’re either going to watch what they say in class (or) changing where and when and how they meet with students.”

Post by Hannah McBride.