University of Texas police responded to four gun-related incidents in the past 12 months, but only one — involving a photo shoot for a newspaper — can be tied to the controversial state law permitting students to carry concealed handguns in most campus buildings.
Campus carry went into effect Aug. 1, about two weeks before the fall semester opened at UT. Opponents of Senate Bill 11 feared there would be a rise in gun-related violence at the campus.
But as the one-year anniversary approaches, those concerns have been unfounded.
Told ya so, say pro-gun activists.
“After decades of resounding success with the concealed handgun license program in Texas, I’m not the least bit surprised to see the campus carry law being implemented successfully and without incident,” said Sen. Brian Birdwell, the author of the bill. “It’s a testament both to the irrationality of the original prohibition and the law-abiding nature of handgun license holders.”
School officials had asked students to call police if they spotted someone flashing a gun on campus, which is unlawful under the campus carry law. There have been four complaints, with one report of gunfire and one arrest, according to police incident reports obtained by the American-Statesman through an open records request.
Only one person carrying a gun on campus was identified in those documents as a student. Huyler Marsh, a graduate student in accounting, posed for a photo for an August story on campus carry in The New York Times. Marsh posed for a photo in a campus library, raising the back of his red plaid shirt to expose a .45-caliber handgun in his waistband. The gun no longer was concealed, triggering a university investigation. UT released a statement saying the dean of students reviewed the incident and spoke with Marsh.
The person who lodged the complaint was not affiliated with UT, according to the incident report.
The UT Police Department did not list a suspect for the other three incidents, one of which resulted in an arrest for taking a gun into a prohibited area:
• In the afternoon on Jan. 27, police were dispatched to the 2300 block of Guadalupe Street — a strip of restaurants and shops known as the Drag. A person near the University Co-op flashed a gun at the complainant, according to the report. Police could not find the accused person.
• About 10 a.m. April 27, police responded to a report of gunfire at the corner of Dean Keeton Street and San Jacinto Boulevard. No injuries were reported, but the person believed to be the target, a 27-year-old construction worker, was issued a trespass warning, and police escorted him off campus.
• About 2 p.m. May 18, police pursued a vehicle after a passenger pointed a handgun out of the window at 38th Street and Lamar Boulevard. They lost track of the vehicle at 51st Street and Avenue F. Austin police joined the search but did not find the vehicle or the passengers.
“UT Austin’s leadership, faculty, staff and students worked very hard to develop policy and educate the campus,” UT spokeswoman Cindy Posey said in a statement.
Posey would not say which incident led to the arrest, but she said the arrested person was not Marsh.
“All of this stuff could have happened without campus carry,” said junior-to-be Quinn Cox, the vice president of UT’s chapter of Students for Concealed Carry.
Last week, the American-Statesman made a request through the university for reports of gun-related incidents in the three years before campus carry went into effect. School officials have not provided that information yet.
This month, a federal judge in Austin threw out a lawsuit filed by three UT professors who had asked that their classrooms remain gun-free. They claimed the possible presence of firearms could have a “chilling effect” on classroom discussion. But U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the threat of physical harm is not heightened just because a student might have access to a gun.
Even though gun owners appear to be on their best behavior, opponents of campus carry continue to condemn it. Jessica Jin, founder of the anti-campus carry group Cocks Not Glocks, said the lack of reported incidents from the past year only proves that students do not need guns for protection.
“I think it’s really funny that we’re presented with accounts of how little of a problem it’s been in terms of actual students pulling out weapons, but I wonder why these questions aren’t framed by how the lack of incidents also prove the lack of necessity for guns on campus,” Jin said.
Rumors circulated on social media May 1 that a student with a concealed permit flashed a gun to thwart a knife attack that left one person dead and three others injured. But police said they could not confirm the rumors. Kendrex White, a student who might have been suffering from mental illness, was arrested and charged with murder.
Members of Jin’s group drew laughs and headlines last year when they set up shop in the middle of campus and distributed dildos to protest the law. They were fighting absurdity with absurdity, she said, adding that the group is tossing around ideas for another campaign.
Jin put the odds that someone wielding a gun would be in position to stop a violent attack at “so many zeroes behind a decimal point.”