July 9, 2017
A federal court sitting in Austin this past week dismissed a lawsuit by three University of Texas professors who alleged that the Texas statute permitting license holders to carry concealed handguns on university campuses “chilled” their First Amendment rights. Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that because the professors had not shown a cognizable, imminent injury the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to entertain their claim.
The claim advanced by the professors bordered on frivolous. The gist of their complaint was because they often discuss controversial subjects and issues in their classrooms, the presence of persons who may be carrying concealed handguns, albeit licensed after a stringent background check performed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, would inhibit discussions in the expression of opinions about which they might disagree. Judge Yeakel cited a number of U. S. Supreme Court opinions that disapprove the application of the First Amendment to such a patently ridiculous theory. Of course, the court’s opinion is restrained in characterizing the absurdity of the claim, but merely dissects the law and the alleged facts. This is appropriate. Strong language is for commentators and politicians, not judges. A dispassionate recitation of legal analysis provides more strength to the opinion.
The court’s opinion and order recites that the cases are dismissed “without prejudice.” This means that it is possible that a similar claim could be filed at a later date, assuming it alleges new facts. Generally, a dismissal for want of jurisdiction is without prejudice, for a number of esoteric legal reasons. The court did not reach the additional and alternative issue that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Even if the law did not permit licensed holders from carrying concealed handguns into classrooms, what would stop a determined, non-licensed person from so doing? A licensee would probably not carry for fear of losing their license. The statute defined “concealed” as “carried in such a manner as to not be discernible by the ordinary observation of a passerby.” One could tuck the gun under their shirt or carry in their purse, and who would know? All this means that the bad guy might have a gun and the good guy would not. Get real, folks.
For those interested in reading the actual opinion, it is styled Dr. Jennifer Lynn Glass, et al v. Ken Paxton, et al, No. 1:16-cv-845-LY, United States District Court, Western District of Texas, Austin Division, July 6, 2017, document #79. It’s available on PACER and probably many other on line sites.