Some professors at the University of Texas at Austin want to be able to teach without wondering whether one of their students is carrying a weapon that could end their life at any time. A federal court ruled on Monday that this is too much to ask of those students.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied a motion by three UT professors to block Texas's new "campus carry" law before the start of the new school years.
The law forbids public universities from preventing their students from carrying firearms on campus. As the Dallas Morning News explained, "Public school officials can establish some 'gun-free' zones, so long as they are 'reasonable' and don’t have the effect of generally prohibiting guns on campus."
The UT state regents, however, have the last word on these matters. Though they agreed to the establishment of a gun-free zone in professors' offices, they ruled that classrooms should be fair game. UT professors were particularly concerned with this ruling because the law went into effect on the 50th anniversary of a mass shooting on the school's campus that killed 14 people.
The professors argued in their case that the law was unconstitutionally vague, that it unfairly applied to public universities but not private ones (private schools can opt out completely from the campus carry rules) and that the presence of guns in the classroom created a chilling effect on free speech.
Lisa Moore, one of the professors in the lawsuit, told the Dallas Morning News ahead of the ruling that she has already experienced how the law affects free speech during a summer class when three of her students registered concerns that their classmates might be armed.
"We didn't talk much about Jane Austen that day," she said.
But all of those arguments failed to convince Yeakel, who wrote in his order that the professors were invoking rights that did not exist.
"The court has searched the jurisprudence of this country from the ratification of the Constitution forward and has found no precedent for Plaintiffs' proposition that there is a right of academic freedom so broad that it allows them such autonomous control of their classrooms both physically and academically that their concerns override decisions of the legislature and the governing body of the institution that employs them," Yeakel wrote in his motion.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who defended the law in court, was pleased with the judge's decision.
Lawyers representing the professors are still deciding on what their next move will be.
Classes at UT start tomorrow.