On August 1 this year, exactly 50 years after a student shot 49 people at the University of Texas, the Texas legislature finally passed laws regulating guns on university campuses. Remarkably, they didn’t ban guns on campus or requiremore stringent background tests before people got access to weapons. Instead laws were passed to allow concealed carry on all Texas university campuses.
So it goes in the US, with the answer to gun violence always seeming to come back to more guns. Austin Texas has the tragic mark of being the site of the first post-war mass public shooting in the US and it was here that we began our trip.
We wanted to speak with people who haven’t given up on getting some common sense in Texan gun laws. We started with Dan Hamermesh who isn’t your typical campaigner for gun control. He is a Professor of Economics who has an interesting take on the economic might of beauty in the workplace. He isn’t known for speaking up on gun violence but doesn’t much like the prospect of teaching a freshman economics class with 500 plus students, some of whom inevitably get upset with their results, when any number of them could be armed. Professor Hamermesh has given notice and UT has lost an internationally acclaimed academic.
Joan Neuberger is a highly respected Professor of History at UT. She is active on campus including
supporting the work of UT Students Against Guns on Campus. Texas law now prevents universities or academics like Professor Neuberger from demanding students leave their guns behind before they come into their lecture halls or seminar rooms. In Texas gun rights Trump all it seems. Bizarrely it is now illegal to carry a sex toy on UT campus but it’s ok to carry a glock pistol.
Then there is Texas Gun Sense, with Executive Director Andrea Brauer and Board Member Mary Lynn Rice- Lively. Texas Gun Sense is calling for practical legal changes that address gun violence. Some safer storage provisions to reduce firearm accidents and firearm suicides is a place they would like to start, as well as closing the many loopholes in requirements for background checks under Texan law. They are building the case for modest reforms while working to hold back plans for what the gun lobby calls ‘constitutional carry’.
Despite the challenges, especially in a post-Trump US, no one I spoke to is backing away from the cause. Professor Neuberger certainly isn’t giving up. In fact the anti-intellectual response she has received from the gun lobby (which matches that received by Professor Hamermesh) is just part of what many liberal-minded Americans see as a growing threat to civility that needs to be addressed.
When I’ve been talking to people striving for evidence based gun laws in Texas I’m not hearing a lot of angry denouncements of the gun lobby. They are frustrated, but their attention is directed to that mass of fellow citizens who want laws that keep them and their families safe. These are decent people working to have meaningful one-on-one engagements with the public and politicians. People who want to share the facts about guns and America’s dangerous exceptionalism when it comes to gun violence.
This is a wonderfully friendly country. It’s a smart place that leads the world in so many respects. However it has also just elected Trump and keeps responding to gun violence with … more guns. When I confront that mix that’s when I remember only a fraction of the adult population actually voted for Trump. The challenge is to reach and motivate that great majority who are looking for a reason to believe things can be better.