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Deflating UT Austin's Free Speech Protest

Deflating UT Austin's Free Speech Protest

The calendar and the thermometer might not show it, but fall has come to the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. The Longhorns are the talk of campus this week with a surprise upset over Notre Dame in the first game of the football season, students are back in class, and the campus is settling into the academic and social routine of another school year. This year, of course, campus carry is now in effect. But it doesn’t appear to be having the impact on campus that its detractors foretold. 

On the first day of class, hundreds of students gathered for a protest of the new concealed-carry reforms—egged on by a correspondent for “The Daily Show” and delighted with the opportunity to do their part for campus safety by waving around sex toys. Speakers warned of classroom discussions chilled by the presence of unseen and unseeing guns and of students snapping at the first disagreement or misunderstanding, whipping out their pistol and attacking their fellow students or professors. Listening to the fears of the students and professors who spoke, you’d think the campus would’ve descended into some dystopian hellhole almost immediately. I’m pleased to report that didn’t happen. (Sadly, I can’t say the same about some of the neighborhoods in anti-gun Chicago, where violence is spiraling out of control this year.) 

Unfortunately, speech is being chilled at UT-Austin right now. It’s just that concealed-carry permit holders have nothing to do with the chilling. According to the university’s Campus Climate Response Team (the UT version of the Bias Response Teams found at many colleges and universities), last year the organization responded to 75 “distinct bias incidents” (a 9 percent increase over the 2013-2014 academic year). One of the most common complaints is “faculty and student commentary in the classroom perceived as derogatory and insensitive.” And every one of those complaints is investigated by the Campus Climate Response Team to see what, if any, measures should be taken against the offending student or faculty member. 

That’s not the only thing chilling speech on campus at UT-Austin. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has given the university a “red light” rating (the worst given) for its policies regarding speech on campus. Yet I haven’t seen a single anti-campus carry protestor bring up these practices and policies that are already having a chilling effect towards speech on campus. They certainly haven’t organized a protest in favor of free speech. No, it’s almost like they’re manufacturing concern about their First Amendment rights to avoid discussing their hostility to the Second Amendment (on or off campus). 

So, if the speech argument is a bust, what about the violence that has been predicted to ensue when concealed-carry permit holders get upset about a grade or about being corrected regarding something they said? Well, I know that every place is different, but we haven’t seen that happen in Utah, Colorado or any of the other states that have had campus-carry laws on the books for years. Nothing like that has ever happened at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where concealed carry has also been allowed (the campus police department hosts concealed carry courses for students and faculty on a regular basis). And concealed carry permit holders generally don’t freak out upon the slightest insult or offense. License revocation rates show that those who are licensed to carry a concealed firearm are far more law-abiding than the general population.    

But none of that matters if you’re unaware of these facts, and too many students and faculty have been fed a steady diet of anti-gun messaging without ever learning or thinking critically about concealed carry in Texas, campus carry across the country, and their right to keep and bear arms. Colleges and universities are supposed to be oases of higher learning, but when it comes to the Second Amendment, far too many are instead deserts of delusion where facts are rejected in favor of feelings. If those on campus are really concerned about their First Amendment rights disappearing they shouldn’t blame the Second Amendment. Instead, they should be fighting to ensure that all voices have the ability to speak—and all viewpoints have the right to be heard. They might be surprised to find out how many allies they’ll find among those who support campus carry as well.

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