Saying their fears are hypothetical and not rooted in reality, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit filed last year by three University of Texas professors hoping to stop students from bringing concealed handguns into campus buildings.
The professors had requested an exemption from Senate Bill 11 — the controversial law that allows license holders to carry concealed weapons in most classrooms, common areas and labs at Texas public universities — telling the court the possible presence of firearms could bring a “chilling effect” to classroom discussion. Their request for a temporary injunction at the time was denied.
In a seven-page ruling signed Thursday in Austin, U.S. Judge Lee Yeakel said the professors’ worries are unfounded and that the threat of physical harm is not heightened just because a student might have access to a gun.
And, Yeakel said, educators are to blame if fear for their safety results in a muted classroom atmosphere.
“The chilling effect appears to arise from plaintiff’s subjective belief that a person may be more likely to cause harm to a professor or student as a result of the law and policy,” Yeakel wrote, adding the professors “present no concrete evidence to substantiate their fears, but instead rest on mere conjecture about possible … actions.”
The ruling is a win for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who in August of last year asked the court to discard the lawsuit on the grounds that people on campus should be entitled to the same level of protection as anyone else.
Paxton, the state’s chief law enforcement officer, released a statement Friday calling the ruling “the correct outcome.”
“The fact that a small group of professors dislike a law and speculate about a ‘chilling effect’ is hardly a valid basis to set the law aside,” he said.
Attorney Renea Hicks, who represents sociology professor Jennifer Lynn Glass in the lawsuit, said he’s confused by the ruling because it fails to reach the merits of the professors’ First Amendment claims or their Second Amendment or equal protection claims.
The lawsuit suggested the presence of deadly force infringes on the teachers’ freedom of speech.
“It appears to be a very narrow ruling based on jurisdiction alone,” Hicks said. “My co-counsel and I will confer, and we will confer with our clients to determine our next steps. Given summer travel schedules (work and vacation), this may take a couple of weeks.”
Campus carry at UT went into effect on Aug. 16, 2016. It broadened a previous law, established in 1995, that allowed those with a license to carry guns on campus sidewalks, parking areas and streets — basically anywhere but inside buildings.
The three faculty members — Glass, English professor Lisa Moore and associate English professor Mia Carter — filed the suit on July 6, 2016, and asked for a preliminary injunction three weeks later that would have temporarily blocked the law from becoming effective. Yeakel denied the motion for an injunction, clearing the way for licensed holders to carry guns on campus to open the fall 2016 semester.
UT President Gregory L. Fenves opposed the change, but said he had an obligation to uphold the law. He formed a team of students, faculty and others to come up with 25 recommendations to regulate how guns would be carried and stored.
A university spokesman said Fenves, who is a defendant in the lawsuit, is out of the country and had not had time to review the court’s decision.