Tarrant County College Update: Empty Holster Protest Held, Trial Delayed

By on November 17, 2009

So far, so good at Tarrant County College in Texas, where members of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) were finally able to hold a long-awaited "empty holster protest" last week following the issuance of a temporary restraining order by a federal judge.

Issued on November 5, the judge’s order prevented TCC from prohibiting student protestors Clayton Smith and John Schwertz, Jr. from wearing empty holsters on campus in symbolic protest of state and college regulations barring lincensed gun owners from bringing firearms on campus. Prior to the judge’s order, TCC had repeatedly prohibited students from holding empty holster protests on campus over the past two years, and administrators had told Smith last month that the college would do so again. Aided by FIRE, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and cooperating attorney Karin Cagle, Smith and Schwertz filed a federal lawsuit against TCC on November 3, alleging that the college had violated their First Amendment rights by refusing to permit them to stage the protest and for quarantining campus expressive activity to a small "free speech zone."

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that despite getting a mixed reaction following the tragic shootings at Fort Hood earlier this month, Schwertz was nevertheless pleased and relieved to be able to exercise his constitutional right to free expression at TCC:

After going to court to stage an "empty holster" protest, Tarrant County College student John Schwertz was getting a cool reception from most students and faculty members on the Northeast Campus.

"It has been mostly negative, but most have been willing to listen," said Schwertz, 20, of Fort Worth, as he protested for allowing licensed concealed-handgun owners to have their weapons on campus.

But given last week’s shooting at Fort Hood, Schwertz said he wasn’t surprised that many students are uneasy with the concept of guns on campus – he’s just relieved that most felt he had the right to express his views.

"There has been no adverse reaction at all," Schwertz said. "No one was scared about the holster, which was the main thing TCC had told us they were worried about. All in all, it went well."

While of course disappointed that it took an order from a federal court to force TCC to acknowledge the First Amendment rights of its students, all of us here at FIRE are pleased that the protest has finally come to pass. It’s useful, too, to see that TCC’s fears of campus panic and disruption were unfounded.

In another development, United States District Court Judge Terry Means, presiding over Smith and Schwertz’s suit, has granted TCC the continuance the school sought. As a result, the trial, which had been set to begin yesterday, will now start on January 12. The temporary restraining order will remain in place until trial.

Schools: Tarrant County College Cases: Tarrant County College Bans Symbolic ‘Empty Holster’ Protest