By: Frances Molina
Professor Carter and I meet for breakfast on a Wednesday morning. I’ve been trying to settle this interview for weeks, but lately getting ahold of Mia Carter is like trying to catch smoke. She’s been understandably busy. On top of her usual summer session grind, she’s been leading a lawsuit with fellow professors Dr. Lisa Moore and Dr. Jennifer Glass against the University of Texas, the Board of Regents, and the Texas Attorney General to voice their opposition to Campus Carry – all the while dodging the press and trying to keep herself and her family safe.
In my mind, Mia Carter has always been a celebrity. Two summer courses with her and I’m still unconvinced she’s not some zany, intellectual prophet. But now, as a result of a groundbreaking lawsuit, she is about to become a nationally recognized figure on the forefront of a Texas gun control issue that has gained international attention. The story has been covered by a variety of news sources (a word to the wise: don’t read the comment section). All of the articles I’ve read thus far have simply reiterated the group’s official statement without a word from the now famous trio of professors. I hoped that my interview with Mia Carter might disrupt the repetitive conversation surrounding the case and shed a little light on a fight that is far from over.
S.B.11, which would later become popularly recognized by the UT community as “Campus Carry”, was signed into effect by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 1st 2015. Across the world, Mia Carter received the news while teaching a semester in France. She says she can remember the uneasiness she felt at the shared disbelief of her French colleagues. When the fall semester of 2015 arrived, Professor Carter was prepared to speak out against Campus Carry which she believed, as she does now, would certainly disrupt the interactive nature of powerful classroom discussion. Prior to our interview Mia shared with me the speech she gave at the Gun Free UT rally in October of last year. In her speech, she condemned the culture of fear that S.B. 11 promoted, a fear that she argues has continued to line the pockets of NRA lobbyists while further dividing the community at the University of Texas and in Austin at large. In the crowd at this particular rally was Malcolm Greenstein, a litigator and long-time friend of Mia Carter. He approached her in the hopes of putting together a team of plaintiffs willing to take some kind of legal stand against Campus Carry before it was implemented on August 1st, 2016. Professor Carter, along with Lisa Moore and Jennifer Glass, agreed to his proposal.
But August 1st has come and gone. The law went into effect almost without notice when the campus was relatively void of students and faculty. With the law in place and most of the university population seemingly willing to resign themselves to the reality of Campus Carry, I have to ask Mia: what’s the point? What is the motivation for what many naysayers (like Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, who called the case “frivolous”) are calling a losing battle?
“We want to challenge the idea that Second Amendment Rights trump all other rights, that they’re more important than any other individual rights: the right for citizens, for students to feel safe and comfortable in their classrooms,” she explains. “They want to fuck with public education and public spaces. They want to have us believe that being in a public space invalidates our rights as private citizens.”
Professor Carter points out the weaknesses in any argument for Campus Carry, many of which I have already heard. Those in favor of the law believe that concealed handguns on campus might allow students to protect themselves in the event of a mass shooting. Those in opposition of the law have dismissed this as pure fantasy. Furthermore, the Second Amendment allows for a “well-regulated militia” of citizens, but how well-regulated could Texas gun owners be with only four hours of required handgun training?
“They want to fuck with public education and public spaces. They want to have us believe that being in a public space invalidates our rights as private citizens.”
“Malcolm (Greenstein) tells us that our common sense is our ‘handicap’”, Mia jokes, cutting into her breakfast when it arrives. She explains that, in legal jargon, this means that although her, Glass and Moore recognize the absurdity of what Campus Carry promises the University, they have to find something else to argue about in court. And with such an intensely complex issue, that “something” come be anything.
I mention the gendered and racial nuances of Campus Carry that have gone largely unmentioned by the popular media outlets covering the effect of the new law on campus. As a woman of color, Professor Carter knows precisely what I mean. In my own experience, I’ve had numerous female classmates in previous courses express their support for Campus Carry, arguing that access to a handgun might further protect them against rape and sexual assault on campus. Professor Carter admits here that she had recently received an anonymous email with the subject header reading simply: “Remember Haruka Weiser”. Indeed, many Campus Carry advocates have made the argument that perhaps a concealed handgun may have saved Haruka Weiser’s life.
But while the ability to carry a concealed weapon may mean added safety for some students, it could be an unintentional danger for UT’s students of color. The murder of Philando Castile is a perfect example. Castile was a black man who openly admitted to having a gun on his person in a state that allowed concealed carry but was still fatally shot by police out of fear that Castile was going to draw his weapon. If Castile’s murder told us anything, it was that carrying a concealed weapon as a black person is simply not the same experience as carrying a concealed weapon as a white person.
Although Mia Carter and the other professors involved in the lawsuit against UT appear to stand in the majority with hundreds of other student and faculty members in opposition to Campus Carry, Mia admits that the backlash she’s experienced has been unexpected. “I’ve received criticism from alumni, people I really expected to understand what we are standing for,” she says, “I’ve been called a ‘bad teacher’. I’ve been accused of putting my students lives at risk by arguing for a ban on guns in classrooms.”
But even after receiving such spite, Mia and her team are not deterred in the least. “If our case is dismissed and the judge decides not to grant our injunction then we’ll reorganize and take our case to the Texas Supreme Court and eventually to the Supreme Court.”
“I’ve received criticism from alumni, people I really expected to understand what we are standing for,”
I ask Professor Carter what she would recommend for students wanting to get involved in the ongoing push toward a gun-free UT and she leaves me with a few words of encouragement. “Students have incredible grassroots power. We have more than our opinions; we have our knowledge and we have our experiences and they are still worth something. They have to be.”
For more information on how and where to get involved in Gun Free UT and the (now infamous) Cocks Not Glocks movement at UT, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/gunfreeut/?fref=ts and https://www.facebook.com/cocksnotglocks/?fref=ts