You just turned from Speedway onto 21st Street. The sun’s shining, there’s a nice breeze, it’s a little chilly. You’re passing by the McCombs School of Business on your way to class when you decide to duck in to use the restroom. You’ve just stepped into a stall when you freeze — there’s a gun on the toilet paper dispenser.
This happened twice in February of 2018, as unattended guns were left in two different UT women’s restrooms. Such cases aren’t that rare, as there have been several incidents of gun violence or gun mishandling on college campuses that allow guns on campus.
But the point of preventative action is to avoid tragedy. We shouldn’t have to react to shootings and losing loved ones — those of us who survive, that is. We’ve been put in this precarious situation, and we have to pull ourselves back from the tipping point by pushing back against the legislature that left us here. The conversation around campus carry has faded. We need to reignite it.
There have been losses other than deaths attributed to campus carry. These are, namely, campus membership and feelings of safety. Professors have left UT out of fear of violence. UT students, such as physics freshman Alejandro Moreno, also fear for their safety, particularly in light of recent mass shootings.
“Due to recent current events, I’m worried,” Moreno said. “I’ve had talks with my roommate (and) other friends I’ve made at UT … The idea that there could be a mass shooting is becoming more and more real.”
The shootings in El Paso and Midland–Odessa still loom large. Recent calls for stricter gun control laws from 2020 Democratic presidential candidates attest to that as well. Even supporters of campus carry, such as military veteran and corporate communications senior Kayla Morales, feel more strongly that the recent shootings warrant some gun control measures.
“I’m comfortable with carrying a weapon, and I’m comfortable with other military-veteran students carrying weapons,” Morales said. “But I don’t think there’s sufficient training for your everyday Joe Schmoe to be walking around with a pistol.”
This concern extends past students and the somewhat unoriginal argument that guns are simply dangerous. Radio-television-film associate professor Anne Lewis, an activist-documentarian focused on issues ranging from gender rights to environmental racism. She argues that campus carry violates teachers’ right, as workers, to safety in the workplace.
“If you go back before that session (when campus carry was passed), people had the right to determine what was going to be in their workplace,” Lewis said. “There were basic worker rights.”
However, Lewis also takes a broader view on this issue. She focuses on self-determination. She argues that campus carry was “forced on us by the (state) legislature,” against the will of faculty, administrators and many students.
“The vast majority of faculty and staff here did not want guns around them,” Lewis said. “They felt they were dangerous, they felt they were oppressive and they felt they were unnecessary … This was something that was coming from on-high. It was not a grassroots demand.”
This university is ours. We eat, work, learn and live here, and we deserve to determine our own rules. If campus carry is meant to protect us, we have the right to determine if we want to be protected that way and if it actually protects us at all.
The lawsuit brought against campus carry by three UT professors failed in the courts. But lawmakers are responsible to us — if the courts won’t defend our right to self-determination, we have to make our legislators do it themselves.
Despite the Gun Free UT signs that remain posted, the outspoken calls against campus carry have quieted down in the years since the law was enacted. They won’t start up again unless we spark them, and that’s a collective effort, as grassroots struggles always are.
This means we start on campus: start conversations about campus carry with students, staff and faculty. Go to the Gun Free UT website, and use their resources to organize protests and events. Take the fight and your voices to the Capitol steps. And don’t stop at campus carry because gun violence goes beyond this single law. We have to fight for ourselves.
Rathi is a Black Studies senior from Austin.