Assayer of Student Opinion.

The Prospector

Assayer of Student Opinion.

The Prospector

Assayer of Student Opinion.

The Prospector

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Taking a bullet for student safety

As students headed into class in the Cotton Memorial Building, room 104, they were met with a sign that sent a simple, but strong message—“No Guns Allowed.”

The sign is lecturer David Smith-Soto’s response to the passing of Senate Bill 11. On June 13 of this year Senate Bill 11 became law. The bill would allow concealed weapons in institutions of higher education, albeit with a proper license.

The controversial bill sparked heated debate amongst state politicians, law enforcement and university faculty and administration. Smith-Soto took a simple and clear stand-no guns in his classroom.

“I just think that guns don’t belong in the classroom,” Smith-Soto said. “I can say it in a one-note paper and I think legislation went too far with this one.”

Smith-Soto is motivated by several factors, but the most obvious and clear one for him is the tragic school shootings that have become all too common in the US.

His fear and reasoning are not unfounded.

In the wake of the Umpqua Community College incident, (Mass Shooting Tracker) reported that in 2015 alone, there have been 297 incidents, 1,094 wounded and 379 deaths resulting from mass shootings in the United States. If we combine the data for 2013, 2014 and 2015 the result is 3,611 wounded and 1,264 deaths. From these events, at least 142 of them have been school shootings since the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn.

“I was not aware that the numbers were that high, it’s something you expect from a warzone,” said Enrique Portugal, senior Spanish major. “Even if this has been spread out through multiple years, it’s completely unacceptable.”

What started as a simple, personal battle for Smith-Soto has now begun to gather traction into a statewide movement as University of Texas faculty members have started a group named Gun-Free UT. They also started a Facebook group as well that, as of right now, consists of 1,099 members and has more than 3,000 signatures on their petition.

Smith-Soto said that he is happy that his actions have inspired fellow faculty members to take a stand against guns in classrooms.

“After the Delta (Delta State University) shooting, TV (KFOX) got a hold of me and after the interview the whole world knew about it,” Smith-Soto said. “That’s when the UT (University of Texas) people found out what I was doing and contacted me. Apparently I inspired them to do what they are doing, and all I could say was that I was glad, because I was beginning to feel a little lonely here.”

Although Smith-Soto is clear about the way he is staging his protest, he is also mindful of what he expects the outcome to be.

“First of all, I don’t expect the sign at the door to stop anyone from coming in, people can say that a sign does not stop anyone and of course it does not, but it’s symbolic,” Smith-Soto said. “But my dream is that a sign go up in every room of the university system to show that we are opposed.”

When asked about an ultimate goal, Smith-Soto said that he hopes someone takes the law into court, where an injunction will first take place and then possibly the law will be found to be unconstitutional.

However, the scenario of a possible injunction or repeal of the law seems improbable according to Todd Curry, UTEP political science professor.

“It’s going to be a hard sell in the state of Texas considering the way we choose our judges, which is popular elections,” Curry said. “Therefore, the judges tend to represent whatever the dominant political culture of the state, which in ours seems to be pretty pro-gun.”

Curry also mentioned that there could be an attempt at a federal argument, but that would also prove very difficult considering there are multiple states that have similar laws that have attempted legal challenges and have not succeeded.

As Aug. 1, 2016 approaches, Smith-Soto is clear about his course of action if someone carries a gun into his classroom.

“I will call it a day and dismiss the class,” Smith-Soto said. “I will probably lose my job, but guns just don’t belong in the classroom.”

Alonso Moreno may be reached at [email protected].

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Taking a bullet for student safety