‘Cocks Not Glocks’ Shows How Texas Needs to Get Its Priorities Straight

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Commentary Law and Policy

‘Cocks Not Glocks’ Shows How Texas Needs to Get Its Priorities Straight

Martha Kempner

Students at the University of Texas Austin plan to protest a new law that allows guns into campus buildings by carrying dildos to class. They hope to point out the absurdity of allowing guns in classrooms while not allowing "obscene" material like dildos. It's a disconnect worth looking into.

Starting next year, guns will be allowed to be openly carried on university campuses in Texas. In response, students at the University of Texas, Austin are organizing a protest in which they say they will carry dildos to class instead.

The students’ planned protest, called #CocksNotGlocks and slated for the beginning of the next academic year, will highlight the absurdity between Texas’ readiness to give gun owners more “freedom” and its willingness to regulate people’s sex lives. In fact, Texas tried for years to prevent people from even buying a dildo—or a vibrator, or any other kind of sex toy—which, unlike a gun, is not going to hurt people as they sit in their classroom or go about the rest of their day-to-day business.

As a professor and sexuality educator, I have always been horrified that any state would try to ban something as innocuous as sex toys. And I can’t imagine standing in front of a class discussing controversial topics, knowing that some of those present might be armed, or remaining firm in an argument over a grade while worrying that a student might pull out a deadly weapon at any second. So it is my hope that this protest—which puts guns and sexuality in the spotlight together—will call attention to what I can only see as some pretty warped priorities.

No state license is required for most adults to possess a handgun in Texas, according to the National Rifle Association’s website. However, people do have to be licensed in order to carry a handgun outside of their own home or vehicle. The “campus carry” law, which was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Greg Abbott (R) in June, will extend that further.

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Starting August 2, 2016, license holders may carry a concealed handgun throughout university campuses, including into buildings.

Many in the state object to the law, including William McRaven, the University of Texas system chancellor, who is a former Navy SEALs admiral. “I’ve spent my whole life around guns. I grew up in Texas hunting. I spent 37 years in the military. I like guns, but I just don’t think having them on campus is the right place,” he told CNN.

McRaven aexpressed another concern, echoed by many of UT’s faculty and with which I can empathize—that having guns in the classroom will stymie discussion and influence interactions between students and professors. Ellen Spiro, a professor in UT’s Department of Radio-TV-Film, co-founded a protest group called Gun Free UT. She told CNN, “People don’t want to voice controversial views if somebody is packing a gun next to them who disagrees.”

UT Professor Emeritus Daniel Hamermesh recently said that he would retire before the rule goes into effect as a means of self-protection. In his resignation letter, he wrote, “With a huge group of students, my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law.”

The students and alumni behind #CocksForGlocks agree. Jessica Jin, who is leading the protest, explained on the group’s Facebook page that the protest may violate campus policy: “You would receive a citation for taking a DILDO to class before you would get in trouble for taking a gun to class. Heaven forbid the penis.”

Jin pointed out that the protest may violate Texas’ penal code, which forbids the distribution or display of “an obscene photograph, drawing, or similar visual representation” if someone is “reckless about whether a person is present who will be offended or alarmed.”

Although the disconnect may be most stark on college campuses as of late, this situation is reflective of the state of Texas’ long history of regulating what goes on in the privacy of one’s bedroom, even as it remained lax on firearms.

In fact, it was illegal to sell a dildo or any kind of sex toy (other than a model that could be used for condom demonstrations) in Texas until the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 35-year-old law in 2008It was the Texas anti-sodomy law that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 and was, thankfully struck down, with the Court saying it was unconstitutional to criminalize homosexual activity. Texas was also one of the states that specifically banned same-sex marriages until courts found that to be unconstitutional.

From laws criminalizing adultery to those making it hard for unmarried women to get birth control, our society has spent a lot of years and a lot of effort regulating sexuality. The ongoing debates about contraceptive coverage and Planned Parenthood suggest that we have not moved on. Clearly there needs to be some laws around sexual behavior in order to protect people from assault or exploitation, but there is no reason for those laws to regulate actions between consenting adults or prevent adults from buying a toy designed to bring them pleasure.

It seems unlikely that the school would ever punish students for having dildos on campus, but they certainly could—which seems absurd in and of itself. Though clearly inappropriate in most classes, a dildo has little potential for harm. Perhaps a professor may be embarrassed by the presence of a the fake phallus or a student might wonder what such an object is for, and maybe it wastes a little bit of instructional time as people giggle and snicker. But everyone will go home in one piece. Heck, they might even have learned something.

The same cannot be said when a student brings a gun to class. We cannot predict how it will be used and we cannot ignore its potential to cause harm. That’s what handguns do—they cause harm. They maim and kill people. And, as many opponents of the policy have pointed out, they may not be an effective means of self defense. 

Yet, Texas wants them to be allowed in classrooms, where people are supposed to be freely exchanging ideas, learning to think critically, and exploring controversial viewpoints. The presence of handguns inevitably changes the tenor of the classroom, even if they are never used. And if, for whatever reason, they are used, there is no guarantee that everyone goes home in one piece.

Dildos and guns are rarely discussed in the same sentence, or even the same story. But perhaps they ought to be, because that tactic highlights how Texas and so many other states are taking the wrong approach to policy-making. We should be regulating dangerous weapons like guns and leaving sexuality decisions—whether they involve sex toys or not—up to individuals. I can only hope that the efforts of protesters like those behind #CocksNotGlocks will help Texas learn that lesson.