Professors who ban guns in their classrooms will be punished, UT lawyer says
By Lauren McGaughy Dallas Morning Herald
AUSTIN — Three professors duking it out in court for the right to ban guns in their classrooms were told Monday they will be punished if they do, according to the latest legal back-and-forth prompted by Texas' new campus carry law.
"Faculty members are aware that state law provides that guns can be carried on campus, and that the president has not made a rule excluding them from classrooms," attorneys representing the University of Texas at Austin and Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in a legal brief filed Monday. "As a result, any individual professor who attempts to establish such prohibition is subject to discipline."
The warning was meant as a clear message to UT professors Mia Carter, Jennifer Glass and Lisa Moore, who sued the university and state in federal court last month to temporarily block the implementation of campus carry. The new law, which went into effect just last week, allows licensed gun owners to carry concealed handguns into most buildings on college campuses, where they were previously allowed just in common areas like quads and sidewalks.
The state's lawyers, in their Monday filing, asked Judge Lee Yeakel to throw out the professors' lawsuit. The educators fired back in their own brief, calling again for Yeakel to halt the law for one semester so they can hold a public trial on whether campus carry violates their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection.
The professors' lawyers say the law and UT's own campus carry rules are too vague for his clients to know if and how they might be punished if they tried to keep gun owners out of their classrooms.
"No person of common intelligence — and one would think that the tenured plaintiffs rise at least to that level — can figure out what governs them on this issue under Texas law and UT policies," the professors' attorneys wrote.
They go on to say there is nothing in state law or UT policy that explicitly forbids professors to ban guns in classrooms, so, then, the question is "whether there is any policy at all that would bar plaintiffs from doing what they want to do or that would punish them in some way if they did so."
In the state's brief, attorneys from Paxton's agency say the law is clear. It gives campus presidents the ability to designate each school's limited "gun-free zones," they say, and if classrooms are not expressly included in campus policy as off-limits to firearms, then guns must be allowed there.
"The president is the sole individual authorized to establish gun exclusion zones on UT Austin's campus. He has not designated classrooms as gun exclusion zones," they wrote.
Yeakel could decide by week's end whether to grant the professors' request to temporarily block the law. While their attorney said it would apply only to them and the students they will teach in the fall, Yeakel acknowledged granting their request would be a slippery slope that would allow other professors at UT, and every other public university in Texas, an excuse to ban guns in their classrooms.