Researchers from Finland are studying concealed carry on UT’s campus

Meara Isenberg

A team of Finnish researchers is studying how the UT community feels about campus carry, which drew global attention when it became state law in 2016. 

Senate Bill 11, which was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, states licensed holders may carry a concealed handgun throughout university campuses. It was what brought project leader Benita Heiskanen and her team to UT.

“We’re interested in the campus community’s experiences with this legislation, both before and after it passed,” Heiskanen said. “We are explicitly interested in different sides of the story … those who were and are for the legislation, those who against it and those who don’t feel strongly about it
either way.”

Heiskanen attended UT for graduate school and now works at the University of Turku in Finland as director of the Center for North American Studies. Following the signing of SB 11 and its enforcement in 2016, she applied for funding to return to UT with a team and study campus carry.

“It’s a very new situation, having concealed carry in educational institutions,” Heiskanen said. “When they introduced that legislation, it really attracted global attention.”

Heiskanen said campus carry is a unique concept to people in Finland, where gun licenses are mainly issued for hunting purposes, and firearms are prohibited on college campuses. Heiskanen said the study’s findings, which used anonymous participants, will be published not just in academic papers in English but also in some non-academic
Finnish publications.

Four of the study’s six team members are currently conducting research at UT and have different backgrounds that Heiskanen said will bring diverse perspectives to the study. For example, Heiskanen said one team member is specifically studying gender while another is focused on the law’s effects on the general
Austin community.

“I am interested in the intersection of visual and spatial culture,” Heiskanen said. “So, I’m interested in the signage, both the official and the counter-signs that faculty have put on their doors for example.”

Heiskanen said the team will visit UT multiple times over the next four years. During this visit, they focused on talking to students, staff and faculty who are experts on the law.

Quinn Cox, an accounting junior and southwest director of the national organization Students for Concealed Carry, said it’s important to recognize that before the 2015 law, concealed weapons could be carried on campus since the mid-1990s, and SB 11 only extended the scope to campus buildings. 

“All this law did was allow individuals to essentially take it into classrooms,” Cox said. “It wasn’t really that much of a change, and I feel that the
student body is seeing that.”

Ana López, a Plan II and health and society junior who helped found the Students Against Campus Carry organization at UT and took part in organizing the 2016 “Cocks Not Glocks” protest on campus, said even though there have been no incidents at UT related to campus carry, she still feels like her ability to express herself and her beliefs “is chilled by the presence of handguns in classrooms.”

“Thankfully we haven’t had any incidents, but I shouldn’t have to worry about them ever happening,” López said.