Judge: Texas college wrong to stop student gun protest

FORT WORTH, Texas — A federal judge has ruled the First Amendment Rights of two Tarrant County College students were violated when the community college prohibited their attempts to stage an empty holster protests last fall.

U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means permanently enjoined TCC Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley and the college from blocking empty holster protests on campus, including the classroom.

Further, Means said the college's cosponsorship provision, limiting students' ability to invite outside organizations on to the campus, "broadly prohibits any speech by students that involves an off-campus organization."

Means added that "the co-sponsorship provision prohibits students from the most basic forms of expressive activity — distribution of literature, use of signs and even assembly — based on no more than the fact that the expression might depend on an off-campus organization for planning or management..."

The case stemmed out of TCC blocking the request to stage an empty holster protest by students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz Jr. last November on the TCC Northeast Campus. The ruling allows the students to seek court costs and attorney's fees from the college.

The two students, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against TCC. The protests were advocating a change in state law to allow licensed concealed handgun owners to bring their guns on to campus. But the lawsuit and subsequent trial were viewed as a debate over free speech rather than gun rights.

"We're really pleased with Judge Mean's opinion," said ACLU attorney Lisa Graybill. "The ruling permanently enjoins Ms. Hadley from stopping these protests. They're going to be able to wear their holsters in the classroom."

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