As Texans welcome the new year on January 1, a law allowing open carry of handguns in the state will go into effect. But as local officials hammer out the details of where guns can still be banned, some are looking ahead to August, when campus carry will be legal at public Texas universities. Amid speculation that schools such as the University of Texas-Austin will still try to implement open carry restrictions, activist groups DontComply.com and Come and Take It Texas have organized to protest gun-free zones (or “victim disarmament zones”) by staging a mock mass shooting near UT’s campus on Saturday.
According to the Facebook event, the Life and Liberty Walk to End Gun Free Zones will begin with armed protesters starting their march near campus and will end with a “theatrical performance.” Matthew Short, a spokesperson for the groups, told the Austin American-Statesman that the fake mass shooting will involve actors playing the roles of shooter and victims, some fake blood, cardboard guns, and the broadcasting of gun noises from bullhorns.
The “serious, theatrical skit” was initially scheduled to take place right on campus grounds. Once the university caught wind of the groups’ plans, however, they released a statement reminding the groups that only the university, faculty, staff, and students were allowed to hold events on campus.
When outside individuals come on campus and violate our rules regarding use of our grounds and facilities, they are asked to leave. If they do not, it becomes a criminal trespass matter. We suggest that any outside organizations planning such events on campus relocate them to other space where they would be allowed.
Now the protest will take place on Guadalupe Street, just across from the campus on a busy shopping strip. I wasn’t able to find much data on the effects event like these have on witnesses, and I’m guessing that has something to do with the scarcity of mock mass shootings and the fact that, you know, they aren’t a very good idea. They make even less sense on or near a campus like UT. While the event page cites the tragedy at San Bernardino, or “yet another gun free zone shooting,” as the reason for their protest, open carry and campus carry are already on their way to Texas. So the rationale behind staging a protest of gun-free zones near a campus that’s already being forced to significantly reduce them is a bit unclear. In that without mention of UT-Austin’s history.
Most Texans are aware of the horror that took place in 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed the UT tower and killed and injured dozens of people from the observation deck, which is now only open for guided tours. More recently, many people remember from personal experience the shooting that took place in 2010 when a masked gunman fired shots on the street before fleeing into the school library and killing himself. I was a UT student when this shooting happened. I was also a resident assistant in charge of many freshman students. When the campus went into lockdown, I remember emailing my residents and assuring them to stay calm wherever they were, while I myself worried about our safety. Rumors of a second gunman kept us in place for hours as SWAT spread across campus in hopes of finding them.
I also remember what happened a few weeks before that school year began, during resident assistant training. As part of the training for the program, RAs were put through a few role play situations acted out by other students and professional staff. It could have been students drinking in the dorms, a fellow RA who wasn’t carrying their weight, or a roommate conflict, but we never knew what situation we were walking into when we entered the room to respond to the actors quips. In my group’s last scenario, I was observing another first-year RA talk to two others acting as stressed out residents when loud gunshots suddenly came from outside the door.
I jumped and momentarily panicked. It wasn’t until I looked at the faces of the experienced RAs next to me that things fell into place: there wasn’t a shooter in the building. The gunshot noises were coming from a speaker system outside the door and my coworker’s real challenge was to handle panicking residents in an active shooter scenario. The terror I felt during those short moments of panic is what comes to mind when I imagine members of DontComply.com and Come and Take It Texas acting out a mass shooting with the help of gun noises blaring from bullhorns.
The mock mass shooting — which will take place while UT students are testing for finals, blocks away from the clock tower, and after the university has spent months trying to figure out campus carry — is unnecessary at best and potentially terrifying at worst.
While DontComply.com and Come and Take It Texas members are acting out the “good guys with guns” narrative that has been proven to have problems, unsuspecting bystanders might experience some of the terror people on campus in 2010 felt. Outside of the controlled environment of a fake mass shooting, bystanders won’t have the benefit of immediately knowing the sounds they’re hearing aren’t real. According to CBS News, this is how a parent recalled his daughter’s experience during the 2010 shooting.
Oscar Trevino, whose daughter works on campus, said she told him she was walking to work near the library when she heard two shots behind her. She started to run and fell down. She said she later heard another shot.
“She’s freaking out. I’m trying to calm her down. I’ve just been telling her I love her and relax, everything’s fine,” Trevino said.
She heard gunshots and she feared for her life. I heard gunshots and I feared for my life. And on Saturday afternoon, UT-Austin students making their ways to finals will hear the same.
*Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to note that the Tower’s observation deck is open for guided tours.