A Texas historian is leading a campaign to protest the law allowing concealed guns on school grounds

Historians in the News
tags: guns, education

Jorge Canizares-Esguerra is a UT-Austin history professor and  Patrick Timmons is a UT-El Paso political science professor.

Those battling against classroom carry have largely misidentified the very nature of this struggle. This has to be a large, raucous, political, cultural, and legal movement to ascertain and defend very different meanings of community than those of licensed carriers. As professors, we don’t see classroom carry to be about our own personal security. We will most likely never be shot in our offices or classrooms, even if we were to piss off some white male students with sacrilegious ideas about race, empire, evolution, or god. This is a struggle over the meaning of education, the classroom, and open society. This is a struggle over the meaning of trust and community.

The great debate (at least ours) has been centered on proving that guns do not make us safer from mass shooters on campus. That guns do nothing to lower crime rates. That guns instead increase the number of accidents, suicides, sexual assaults, and deaths. That licensed carriers are not the benign actors that the statistics on crime seem misleadingly to suggest. Ever since the massacre of Virginia Tech this country has been committed to the idea that to fight mass shooters (themselves the product of the pathologies of gun culture), we need more guns in dorms, in classrooms, in university offices. It has become a sweeping wave that is now crushingly moving into K12. To fight crime in schools, to discipline the diseases of race and poverty, we need to deputize teachers as armed marshals.

We are witnessing the great ideological return of settler colonialism. Well, it never went away. The vigilante, the deputized marshal, the good guy lying in wait to shoot the bad one is at the very core of how this country got to be made from coast to coast, from the sixteenth-century to the closing of the American frontier. And beyond. We have been told that what made America exceptional is dying, that kids are no longer able to secure better lives than those their parents enjoyed. No. What has made America really peculiar throughout has been the fiction of the triumph of the self over community. How to secure myself from physical threats? Get a gun and fictionally shoot your way into the safety of your own den. How to protect myself from the frying pathologies of power, poverty, and racism? Deputize yourself to discipline those who stubbornly resist. America has all along been about the sheer display of white male power (with guns): over Indians, over slaves, over females, over Mexicans, over Asians, over African

Americans, and over Arabs, now The return of the vigilante movement is a giant, collective white push back against the Civil Rights Movement and against the unintended consequences of globalization, migration, and demography.

When a student brings a gun into our classroom he has privileged his individual right over our right to establish and control the bond of trust and community in the classroom necessary to teach. The mere presence of guns can intimidate and thwart free speech. But more important, guns directly challenge our individual first -amendment right to control the bond of trust and community that is constitutionally under our care. Yes, this is a right protected by several decisions of the Supreme Court. And no, this is not about “academic freedom” as we have repeatedly been told. In fact the Texas law on guns, SB11, gave universities, as corporations, the right to decide which areas should be reasonably considered gun- free. Academic freedom has been largely decided in Supreme Court jurisprudence as the corporate right of universities to defend decision on tenure, hiring, and affirmative action, somewhat independent from local and state laws. SB11 lies squarely within this tradition. Although SB 11 might seemingly threaten our corporate right, it mostly undermines our rights as individuals. So we reject pursuing any legal challenge to this law as a struggle over academic freedom.It is a dead end. We’ll lose in court.

This is a battle over our individual right to determine the nature of the community of trust within our classroom, well established by constitutional law. This right has now been challenged, assaulted by a toxic ideology of white racism and libertarianism. What differentiates an individual who seeds mistrust and puts people at risk by shouting fire,in a crowded theater, from the individual who carries a gun into our classroom? Neither the shouter not the carrier can avail himself from constitutional protection.

Finally, the Texas laws of gun signage (SB273) do not apply to us. We cannot be considered officials of a state agency. What transpires in our classroom is free speech protected by constitutional law. It is within our rights to use our syllabi to symbolically reject this policy. We can make it a written rule, although not legally enforceable, that students cannot bring guns into our classrooms. We look forward to going to court to defend our right to use our syllabi to voice our INDIVIDUAL views were we to be challenged either by students or the state. We faculty have in our toolkit many ways to resists this law that are protected under the robust constitutional tradition of free speech.


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