Few things are more powerful than humor when you’re trying to make a point.
That’s why students at the University of Texas at Austin got so much attention with their #CocksNotGlocks protest against allowing concealed handguns on public college campuses.
Some students will be carrying guns.
Some will be carrying dildos.
On one stage, you find the Second Amendment advocates who over time have demanded and won three things in Texas: the right to carry concealed handguns if they are licensed, the right (starting in January) to openly carry handguns with licenses and, starting next August, the right to carry concealed handguns on the grounds of public colleges in the state.
The first wave of CHL holders failed to live up to the warnings of rootin’-tootin’ mayhem that was supposed to erupt when people were packing guns all over Texas.
Open carry is a different proposition because it brings the display of firearms into the picture. It’s one thing to have a gun in your purse where nobody can see it, and another to wear it on your hip where they can. Maybe that’s important, like the difference between an iPod and a boombox, and maybe not. It does announce a person’s status in the way that a pocketed pistol does not, and Texas is just beginning its experiment in how that works.
Frequent shootings raise the stakes for the new campus carry law. Campuses are made for debate, demonstration and political theater. And they’re made for kids, away from home for the first time.
But the debate over whether to allow guns on Texas public college campuses is over, and the second stage of this political theater is for the people who lost that legislative debate.
Instead of protesting the law, some UT-Austin students decided to ridicule the folks who carry guns. And while they’re getting their laughs — even from some Second Amendment devotees who disagree — they’re getting as much or more attention than the people who actively campaigned against deregulating handgun possession in the Legislature.
Heck, this isn’t even a protest yet. The campus-carry law doesn’t take effect until next August, on the 50th anniversary — not kidding about this — of the day Charles Whitman killed his wife and his mother and then shot 46 people from the tower in the middle of the UT-Austin campus, killing 14 of them.
Campus carry passed during the legislative session that ended in June. Most UT-Austin students didn’t get to school until the start of this year’s fall semester. About a month later, hundreds of students announced their plan for a demonstration starting on the morning of Aug. 24, as they will carry dildos while those licensed to do so carry their concealed weapons.
They have a Facebook page, of course, where the debate over gun laws is reliably vigorous. They’ve posted UT-Austin’s rules on prohibited expression and obscenity and warned participants that violations could involve Class C misdemeanor charges.
“Starting on the first day of Long Session classes on August 24, 2016, we are strapping gigantic swinging dildos to our backpacks in protest of campus carry... ‘You're carrying a gun to class? Yeah well I'm carrying a HUGE DILDO.’”
The state’s obscenity statute (Section 43.21 of the Texas Penal Code) includes dildos in its definition of obscene devices. But that law also has an exemption that might apply if the UT-Austin demonstrators do what they’re promising: “'Obscene' means material or a performance that ... taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value.”
And there was a possession issue at one time, too, a legal presumption that anyone with six or more obscene devices was “presumed to possess them with intent to promote the same.” The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals knocked that one down in a 2008 case.
“We are viewing this as a free speech issue,” said Gary Susswein, a spokesman for the university. “Students have a right to express themselves, and this appears to be protected political speech.”
So the guns are legal, or will be. And the dildos are arguably legal, because this is political theater and all. For all of the attention it’s bringing to the state of Texas right now, it’ll be almost a year before the law takes effect and the demonstrators start making fun of the guns.
That’s plenty of time for everyone to do their back-to-school shopping.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.