Phi Beta Cons

Campus Carry and the Texas Tower

I grew up with guns. Toys first, then a single shot .22. Before long I was taking a Swiss Vetterli, as tall as I was, to school for show and tell. So the operatic liberal (and presidential) gun hysteria leaves me bemused. I agree with the sticker you see at gun shows: “A Gun Society Is a Polite Society.”

Now Reuters stringer Jon Herskovitz notifies us of a lawsuit filed by three University of Texas professors alleging that UT’s open carry policy violates their … academic freedom. The lawsuit, filed by Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter, names as defendants the Texas attorney general, the university’s president and its board of regents. According to the Texas Tribune, “… professors say they teach courses that touch emotional issues like gay rights and abortion.”

The lawsuit reads in part “Compelling professors at a public university to allow, without any limitation or restriction, students to carry concealed guns in their classrooms chills their First Amendment rights to academic freedom.” Nice try, but their lawyer should have explained that the First Amendment and academic freedom, while sounding similar, are really unrelated.

I was in Austin last January for the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) annual convention when a handful of members and some Craigslist extras marched on the Texas Capitol to protest the state’s new “campus carry” law. On the Capitol steps, they built a silly little “circle of safety” out of books.

That Longhorn professors want to keep guns off campus couldn’t be more ironic. Fifty years ago, Charles Whitman, after murdering his wife and his mother, climbed the tower of the University of Texas and began shooting people as much as 500 yards away. He hit 49, killing 16 before an off duty policeman, Ramiro Martinez, shot and killed him. Liberal critics deplore that the new law takes effect on the anniversary of the “gun-related” Texas Tower massacre, reports Herskovitz, but the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. Herskovitz neglects to mention that Ramirez was aided by students who had deer rifles racked in their pickups or nearby homes. South African J.M. Coetzee, then a grad student but later a Nobel Laureate in Literature, said, “I hadn’t fully comprehended that lots of people around me in Austin not only owned guns but had them close at hand and regarded themselves as free to use them.” Fancy that.

Thank goodness they did because it was “close at hand” weapons and the students’ marksmanship that pinned down the maniac, saving who knows how many lives. Bill Helmer, also a grad student, observed that “… what [the students] did turned out to be brilliant. Once [Whitman] could no longer lean over the edge and fire, he was much more limited in what he could do. He had to shoot through those drain spouts, or he had to pop up real fast and then dive down again. That’s why he did most of his damage in the first twenty minutes.”

Guns didn’t make Whitman kill (he stabbed his wife and mother). Harry Crews in a chilling essay titled “Climbing the Tower,” says, “… Whitman calmly and with incredible accuracy shot mothers and husbands and children, shot them dead because it was in him to do it, because his life and everything that made it had taken him there.”

At my college, if there is an active shooter like Whitman or Virginia Tech’s Seung-Hui Cho, we are expected to “freeze in place” (translation: “become a sitting duck”). No, those Longhorns had the right idea back in 1966: if shooting starts, shoot back. Or, you can cower inside your circle of books, complaining about academic freedom, and wait for the executioner.

Professor David Clemens teaches composition, literature, and critical thinking at Monterey Peninsula College. In 2000, his victorious struggle against a college loyalty oath to multiculturalism was covered ...

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