It’s often difficult for a student voice to be heard in the political arena, especially amid big-money interests and corporate pressure. But students at University of Texas, Austin are not the type to give up. Thousands brought shiny, colorful dildos to their first day of class, protesting concealed carry on campus by pointing out that an innocuous, yet risque image like a sexual toy is not permitted on campus, yet a deadly weapon is. The symbolic gesture originated as a response to the recent Texas law that permits anyone with a permit to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. The law was created to ensure that the students would be able to defend themselves in case of mass shootings, such as the 2015 Umpqua Community College or the 2013 Santa Monica College shootings.
History has shown that guns on college campuses, or anywhere for that matter, have been shown to seldom protect and more often serve as death agents for destabilized, stressed, or psychologically damaged students. The decision lasts a split second and can do a lot of damage before anyone can even react. In a situation like this — especially a planned attack — it’s ridiculous to expect civilians to shoot back.
The piece of legislation has been so controversial that three faculty members at UT Austin have filed a lawsuit on the basis that having concealed weapons in their classrooms would impede the free exchange of controversial ideas and thus interfere with the First Amendment right to academic freedom. Federal judge Lee Yeakel rejected the argument on the basis that concealed weapons do not directly prevent students from voicing one side of an issue or another.
Yeakel’s basis of rejecting the lawsuit was his interpretation that the right to academic freedom is not an absolute right.
However, the presence of concealed weapons on campus has much greater stakes in terms of safety. Students — and professors, for that matter — must be able to speak freely without being afraid of some overly-passionate peer pulling out a gun. The concealed nature of the weapons would also rob students of an awareness of danger that could potentially save their lives. Academic freedom, especially when tied to student safety, must be upheld.
The judge also pointed out that concealed weapons do not force students to lean one way or another on different issues. But this argument is purely tunnel-vision. While it might be true that hidden guns do not directly sway opinions, the fear of being shot during a controversial discussion may prevent both students and teachers from expressing honest opinions. Professors should not fear for their lives in discussions of failing grades. The concealed nature of the weapons makes the threat even more unpredictable. It is in this way that the ruling indirectly impacts free speech, endangering lives in the process.
The UT Austin protest is only one of the first signs of discomfort on campus. The former dean of UT Austin School of Architecture left for University of Pennsylvania because of his opposition to the new gun law. Less than a month has passed since the law and already the waves it caused are turning into tsunamis.
If thousands of students and professors do not feel safe being on campus, then the law quite directly impacts their freedom to learn in a healthy, protected environment. If their voices are not heard soon, this law could set a precedent for other college campuses around the country, encouraging trigger-happy politicians to implement such policies elsewhere. More conservative pro-gun states might follow Texas’s lead.
Some would argue that the more students that have concealed weapons, the more the chance of a shooter being stopped by one of them. In both theory and practice, this argument reveals itself to be completely fallacious. To expect an untrained civilian with a concealed, safety-locked weapon only theoretically within arm’s reach to suddenly, effectively and efficiently take down a shooter with an automatic weapon is heinous. A study by the Federal Bureau of Investigation examined active-shooter events from 2000 to 2012 and determined that less than 3 percent were stopped by armed civilians. Other research is inconclusive, and more data must be gathered. A college campus is not the place for that experiment.
While more guns may seem like the solution to rampant mass shootings in schools across the country, having weapons at an arm’s length is too much of a risk to take. Fighting fire with fire will only magnify the already blazing inferno.