Texas professors seek US court help to ban guns in their classrooms

A student walks at the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, on June 23, 2016.
A student walks at the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, on June 23, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

AUSTIN (Reuters) - Three University of Texas professors plan to ask a US judge on Thursday (Aug 4) to give them the option of barring students from bringing guns into their classroom after the state gave some students that right under a law then went into effect this week.

The professors said academic freedom could be chilled under the so-called campus carry law backed by the state's Republican political leaders that allows concealed handgun licence holders aged 21 and over to bring handguns into classrooms and other university facilities.

"The forced presence of handguns will inevitably dampen classroom debate, discussion, and intellectual exploration by the undifferentiated intimidation unavoidably imposed by the close presence of hidden, loaded guns," according to the lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction filed by professors Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican and a defendant in the suit, filed papers this week to halt the injunction, calling the professors' case a "frivolous lawsuit."

"There is no legal justification to deny licenced, law-abiding citizens on campus the same measure of personal protection they are entitled to elsewhere in Texas," Paxton said in a statement.

Lawyers for the professors said they expect a decision before Aug 24.

The professors argue that they discuss controversial and emotionally laden subjects such as reproductive rights, and it would be inevitable for them to alter their classroom presentations because of potential gun violence, according to court filings.

The law took effect on Aug 1 as the University of Texas held a memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of one of the deadliest US gun incidents on a college campus.

On Aug 1 1966, student Charles Whitman killed 16 people in a rampage, firing from a perch atop the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, the state's flagship public university.

University of Texas professors lobbied unsuccessfully to prevent the campus carry law, arguing the combination of youth, firearms and college life could make for a deadly situation.

Republican lawmakers said campus carry could help prevent a mass shooting.

The law allows private colleges to opt out, and most of the state's best-known private universities have done so, saying the measure runs counter to protecting student safety.

Eight states now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state laws.