Anyone visiting The University of Texas at Austin campus lately might have noticed the vibrant green and orange signs proudly displayed in the windows of many buildings. In bold letters, the message “Gun-Free UT” resonates with the sentiment felt by the over 3,500 students, professors and faculty who petitioned against the implementation of S.B. 11, or the campus carry law, that allows concealed handguns into college buildings.
Among these large displays are smaller ones plastered onto kiosks and bulletin boards around campus. Many of them read “Peace Zone: Please Leave Your Guns at Home,” and many of them have been defaced. A troll favorite continues to be “Trump 2016!” Yet this normally obnoxious graffiti took on a very ominous tone in September.
On Friday, Sep. 16, rhetoric and writing Assistant Professor Casey Boyle tweeted a picture of a bullet shell casing he found in Parlin Hall on campus. Stuffed inside the casing was a thin note in red ink that read “triggered?” Below the casing was a defaced “Peace Zone” sign with the sentence written also in red, “In the land of pigs the butcher is king. Oink…Oink…Oink.”
The University of Texas Police Department has launched a full investigation and campus organization Gun Free UT advises that no one touch the shells so as not to tamper with potential evidence. There have been reports of two other bullet shell casings found on campus, one in Batts Hall and another in Parlin Hall. The one found by Assistant Professor Boyle on Friday was the only one with a note attached to it.
Since the beginning of the semester, Parlin Hall has been home to the Peace and Wellness Workshop sponsored by Gun Free UT and Students Against Campus Carry. The workshop aims at teaching faculty potentially life-saving techniques for deescalating arguments and calming threatening individuals who may be armed. Though it is unclear whether the bullet casings were threats designed for the active anti-campus carry organizations, the placement of the casings and notes warrant the attention of the student body.
Although the planting of the shells remains a threat, the university has failed to send any immediate official notifications to the campus community alerting them about the shells and what to do if they see one. Under the Prohibition of Campus Violence, the university “is committed to creating and maintaining an environment that is free from threatening and violent behavior” and promises to respond “promptly” and “aggressively” to such behavior. University administration members often claim to sympathize with those fearing campus carry, but their lack of action in condemning recent threats shows little regard for the safety of the campus community.
Denial about the reality of the situation will only embolden those who made such vile threats. Moreover, in order to maintain its world-class status as a place of higher education, the university must denounce such acts with the promptness they have promised to their students, faculty and staff.
The university is already paying the price for the acceptance of campus carry by losing out on prospective talent who are deterred because of the campus carry law. Most recently, singer-songwriter Ray LaMontange announced his decision to cancel his performance at UT’s Bass Concert Hall because he could not obtain a waiver that would prevent people from bringing firearms to his concert.
Calling out laws that try to normalize the acceptance of lethal weapons in our everyday lives is one of the biggest tools we have as citizens. The majority of the Texas legislature might be apathetic to how gun violence affects its citizenry, but a distinguished international educational leader such as UT does not have that same luxury.