Texas Students Return To Class With New Open Carry Law In Effect
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A few weeks ago, we told you about a new law in Texas that allow students, if they are licensed, to bring concealed guns to public college campuses. We spoke with a University of Texas professor who asked a judge to block the law. That effort failed. But as Syeda Hasan, from member station KUT News in Austin reports, opponents have come up with a new tactic that's getting attention and may be breaking a little-known law.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Gun free U-T. Gun free U-T.
SYEDA HASAN, BYLINE: This was the sound of one demonstration on campus earlier this week. Hundreds of students, faculty and elected officials gathered to protest the newly-implemented campus-carry law, and they did it in an unconventional way.
ANA LOPEZ: And what I need you all to do is just grab a free dildo, strap it to your backpack. We're coming with zip ties soon...
HASAN: That's Ana Lopez, vice president of Students Against Campus Carry. On Tuesday, she helped distribute more than 4,500 sex toys, most of them donated, to students on campus. Students have been carrying the toys on their backpacks. The idea being that sex toys are actually illegal to carry around campus, but guns are not.
LOPEZ: According to Texas Penal Code 43.22, these things are a class-C misdemeanor. These are considered obscene. You cannot hold them around in public. However, it's totally fine to have a loaded gun in your backpack.
HASAN: The law allows license-holders to carry concealed handguns on public university grounds, although there is a process to ban them in some locations. The issue has divided the campus community long before it went into effect. In February, UT's longtime architecture dean announced that he was quitting, citing campus carry as a major reason for his departure. Three professors even filed a lawsuit, which eventually failed, but several others have organized against the law, including neuroscience professor Kristen Harris.
KRISTEN HARRIS: Because I don't want guns in my classroom, and I don't want guns in my laboratory. And I don't want guns in the hallway, and I don't feel that guns are an appropriate teaching tool.
HASAN: Harris worries that the presence of guns could hinder classroom discussions.
HARRIS: I want to create a safe and secure environment for them where they will learn and be able to, you know, exchange their ideas, feel free to get angry, but not be able to go over the top and hurt somebody.
HASAN: Proponents of the law are also making their voices heard. The gun rights group Open Carry Texas held a counter-protest. On Wednesday morning, about half a dozen members, some of them UT students, gathered on the edge of campus carrying signs and firearms. C.J. Grisham is the group's president and founder, and he thinks the controversy will soon blow over.
C J GRISHAM: Yeah, I think what's going to happen is after these protests, everyone's going to go back to class. They're going to be carrying their little rubber devices. And after about a week or even a few days, people just aren't even going to care.
HASAN: University officials have been working to inform the student body about the change. Bob Harkins is UT's associate vice president for campus safety and security, which oversees the campus police department. I asked him if they had any concerns about having an armed student body.
BOB HARKINS: It doesn't really make a difference. The law says, and the legislative body has agreed that it's within the rights of a person to carry. And what we think is kind of immaterial. We're just trying to make certain we can do it as safely as possible.
HASAN: Harkins says UT police don't plan to take any action against the sex toy protesters for violating state law. They view the effort as political free speech, and it doesn't look like the protests will be going away anytime soon. Demonstrators say they plan to continue their effort until the campus-carry law is repealed. For NPR News, I'm Syeda Hasan in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.