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Professors Attempt To Halt Texas Law Allowing Guns In Classrooms


On public college campuses in Texas, students over 21 who are licensed gun holders can now bring their weapons into dorms and classrooms as long as their firearms are hidden away, say, in a backpack. It's a controversial law that took effect last week, and three professors at the University of Texas at Austin are out to stop it. They'll be in court this week asking a judge to hold off on the law while they try to get it overturned in the courts. The clock is ticking, as classes start there on August 24. Lisa Moore is one of the professors. She teaches English and gender studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and she joins us from her office. Professor, welcome.

LISA MOORE: Thank you so much.

SUAREZ: Why did you and your colleagues decide to bring this lawsuit?

MOORE: We just find that it's impossible to do our jobs with this policy in place. We all teach subject matter that is quite sensitive, and we all use very participatory, you know, pedagogically sound methods of trying to teach students how to state their views on controversial subjects, challenge one another and stand up for what they believe in. And the thing is our classrooms have to be laboratories for experimenting with those kinds of challenging materials and challenging stances that people take.

SUAREZ: So you're saying that these things can't be done if someone has a firearm in the room?

MOORE: I'm saying that - yeah, that's what I'm saying because it's my job to create a safe learning environment for students in order to encourage them to take those kinds of intellectual risks. And I am genuinely not equipped to keep students safe from a firearm in my classroom. One of the provisions of this law is that in order to minimize the amount of handling of a gun that goes on on campus, the gun has to be already loaded before you bring it into the classroom.

So it is cocked. It - there's a chambered round in a gun that might be in someone's backpack. And already this week - I've been teaching summer school, and my students are talking about their concern that someone sitting next to them is going to drop their bag and there'll be an accidental misfire that will cause an accident. These are 18 to 22-year-olds, OK?

Say the licensed gun holders are 21 and over. These are people who are at a very vulnerable stage of life where there's a lot of struggles with the onset of adult mental illness. There's often a lot of poor choices made with regards to drugs and alcohol. I've had students show up to my classes in all kinds of states where they might not be making the best choices. These are not circumstances in which we want guns in the mix.

SUAREZ: By making this move, you know you've picked a fight with some of the most powerful people in Texas. The law is supported by the governor, Greg Abbott. The attorney general says the law is absolutely constitutionally sound and he'll defend it in court. What's ahead?

MOORE: Well, you know, they may be politically powerful, but there has always been a powerful strain of Texas populism as well. And I consider myself to be in that tradition. I also know that there's power in the intellectual power of everything that goes on on a University of Texas campus and all the other public university campuses in the state. Everyone from the chancellor, Admiral McRaven, the guy who got bin Laden, you know, on down the line in the University of Texas system is against this law. We, too, have power.

SUAREZ: Do you know - does anyone know how this law is affecting recruitment, retention, both the faculty and students?

MOORE: Yes, we do. We already have concrete examples of faculty who have declined to apply for jobs here at the university or who, once offered jobs, have turned them down when they realized that this policy would go into effect, students changing their minds about coming to our graduate and undergraduate programs, and invited speakers declining to come when they realized that we couldn't guarantee that they would give their talk in a gun-free space.

SUAREZ: I understand that students are part of your pushback on this law. But there must also, at the same time, be students at UTA who are glad for the opportunity to carry a weapon, who've read about crimes like that at Virginia Tech and think, well, if I was carrying, I would've been part of the solution rather than a victim.

MOORE: Yes. And, you know, I have every sympathy with feeling afraid in the face of the terrible wave of gun violence that we're all suffering. The thing is, you know, we like, as professors, to arm ourselves with reason, as we say (laughter).

And what we know is that the research shows that the good guy with a gun is a myth, that there's never been a case where a mass shooting has been stopped by someone who was not a law enforcement official picking up their firearm and shooting back. That's an enormously complex situation and someone with four hours of training, which is all that the state requires for a licensed gun holder, is not going to be in a position nor have the practice to be able to make a wise decision at that time.

SUAREZ: That's Lisa Moore. She's a professor at the University of Texas. She joined us from her office in Austin. Professor, thanks a lot.

MOORE: My pleasure. Thanks for speaking with me.

SUAREZ: NPR reached out to the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who's fighting to keep the law allowing guns on college campuses in effect. His office hasn't returned requests for comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.