Judge Rules in Favor of Empty Holster Protest

by David Burnett on March 17, 2010

The primary goal of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is to allow the carry of concealed handguns by licensed adults on college campuses. One of our main ways to gain public awareness is through our signature “Empty Holster Protest” event in which students wear empty holsters all week to show that laws and policies against lawful carry of firearms leaves them defenseless, with nothing but “Empty Holsters” to defend themselves should their life or safety be threatened.

In the past, thousands of students at more than 600 campuses have participated in the events. The past protests have generated an enormous amount of media coverage and attention for our cause. However, some colleges weren’t content to restrict the right to keep and bear arms; they also sought to limit the freedom of speech by prohibiting our members from participating. Among them was Tarrant County College (TCC) in Texas.

In the Spring of 2008 TCC prevented SCCC campus leader and future national board member Brett Poulos from wearing a holster anywhere on campus. They further restricted any other activity such as speeches or handing out fliers, to a 12 foot concrete platform, their so-called “free speech zone”. While TCC received a great deal of controversy from the decision, including winning some dubious “worst of free speech” awards, they were unrelenting.

In the Spring of 2009, SCCC’s new campus leader Clayton Smith attempted to participate in the Empty Holster protest at TCC. When Smith sent an informative letter to campus administration to let them know about the upcoming protest, he was warned that empty holsters would not be permitted anywhere on campus. If he wanted to pass out fliers or discuss the campus ban on firearms, he would have to restrict such actions to a similar “free speech zone.”

Clayton contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and began exploring his options. When TCC repeated their refusal to allow the Empty Holster Protest in the fall of 2009, Clayton and fellow SCCC member John Schwertz filed suit against the college with the assistance of the Texas ACLU. A temporary restraining order was then issued that allowed Clayton and John to participate in the fall protest.

On March 15, after months of trial hearings and legal paperwork, a final ruling came down. Federal judge Terry Means permanently banned TCC from preventing any empty holster protests throughout campus, stating in part that

“[T]he disruptive activities provision, as applied to student SCCC members to prevent them from wearing empty holsters on campus or in the classroom, violates such students’ First Amendment right to free speech. … Tarrant County College District, its officials, employees, and agents, be and they are hereby PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from prohibiting Clayton Smith, John Schwertz Jr., and any other Tarrant County College District student from wearing empty holsters in TCC’s classrooms, on the TCC campuses’ streets and sidewalks, and in the TCC campuses’ outdoor common areas, such as lawns and plazas.”

The ruling also struck down parts of the TCC student handbook dealing with sponsorship of campus protests. (Click here to read the full ruling.)

Click here to read FIRE’s article regarding the lawsuit.
Click here to read the ACLU’s press release

For media and other official inquiries, contact SCCC’s Regional Director for the area, Daniel Crocker, or David Burnett, Director of Public Relations.


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