MLA Protests Law Approving Concealed Guns on Texas Campuses

Image via Flickr by Ben

by Laurel Dowswell

Last year, the Texas legislature passed a law to permit concealed weapons on state college campuses including classrooms and dormitories. The law will be in effect beginning August 1st, 2016.

Actions of protest against the law have already begun this year. The Modern Language Association held its annual conference in Austin last week, and on Friday, December 8th, sponsored a protest march  with hundreds of attendees. The march led to the capitol building filled with signs, speeches and chants of “Gun-Free UT. Make it safe for you and me,” and “Guns are not a teaching tool. They do not belong in school.”

While the loud national debate over guns and gun laws continues to divide the United States, educational professionals are uniting against having concealed weapons within the learning environment. As of the most recent listing, twenty-eight scholarly societies have joined the MLA in their concern of the Texas law citing safety and freedom of expression.

Students and their allies are also being vocal about the law. Groups on both sides of the debate are organizing and planning for activities in 2016.

Students for Concealed Carry is a student-run group that advocates in favor of the law and has called on Governor Greg Abbott for clarification during any special session that occurs in 2016. They are asking for specificity on the scope and intent that allows university presidents to make “reasonable rules” regarding the gun law.

On a separate front, a group self-labeled with the slogan, “Fighting absurdity with absurdity,” is Campus (Dildo) Carry.  Choosing humor as its weapon, their website, Twitter feed, and Facebook pages entitled ‘Cocks Not Glocks’ calls out the rule at University of Texas at Austin of not allowing students to carry dildos because they are listed as “obscene.” Led by UT Alum Jessica Jin, the group is planning a protest on the day the law takes in effect with 10,000 people signed up as attending on their Facebook page already. Jin and the group have received a lot of press since the group started in October of last year.

Texas isn’t the only state with a concealed carry law on campus. Beginning with Utah in 2006, Texas is one of eight other states with laws on the books including: Oregon, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas (faculty only), and Idaho.

Academics across all areas of education have a strong argument to be concerned. How can the quality of education be upheld within these circumstances? What kind of learning environment is this for students and teachers?  Does this abridge the freedom of speech guaranteed by the first amendment? I am no constitutional scholar by any means, but the meaning of the word abridge by the Merriam-Webster dictionary explains it as “to reduce in scope” and “to shorten in duration or extent.” I can easily imagine that this can be present in the classroom from students and teachers alike.

After a week where U.S. President Obama announced executive action to reduce gun violence, the debate continues to be on the minds of many.

Regardless of your stance on gun laws, it is crucial to remember the inherent substantive purpose of education. As it is not only an arbiter of information, it is also an arena where minds are intended to be challenged beyond their previous experiences to garner a deeper understanding of the world, and learn how to model their personal contributions with purpose, without the fasteners of fear and with the wisdom gathered through intellectual freedom.

Surely, this perspective could be showing a hint of naiveté. The United States is already in the midst of a deep atmosphere of fear, perpetuated on many fronts by certain politicians and commercially-driven media outlets. But, personally, I cannot imagine that a ‘Wild West’ mentality facilitated by laws passed by our elected officials has the ability to improve that feeling. Do you?

But that doesn’t mean protests cannot be effective. They have a long history of facilitating change here in this country, and all over the world. March on ye bold students and educators, march on.

Laurel Dowswell is the Features Editor at Change Seven. Her short story, “I Am the Eggman” was nominated for the 2016 Pushcart Prize. She was a copy editor for an independent feminist newspaper in Santa Fe, NM, after being raised and educated in Florida. She lives and writes in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta with her son. She is currently working on a novel filled with oil paintings, family drama, and the spectrum of sexuality. Her twitter username is @laurels_idea.

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