AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg says he will not allow concealed handguns in his physics classroom at the University of Texas, and is willing to fight the state's new law in court.
Texas approved Senate Bill 11 in May last year. It is scheduled to take effect on Aug. 1, in time for the start of the fall semester.
The law allows people with concealed-weapon permits to "carry a concealed handgun on or about the license holder's person while the license holder is on the campus of an institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education in this state."
Professor Weinberg, one of the world's leading theoretical physicists, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 and the National Medal of Science in 1991.
He holds the Jack S. Josey-Welch Foundation Chair in Science at UT-Austin, is a member of the physics and astronomy departments, and is director of the Theory Research Group.
He has written hundreds of articles on particle physics, and books on general relativity, quantum theory, a unifying theory of nature and the dangers of nuclear weapons. He taught at Columbia, Berkeley, M.I.T., and Harvard before coming to Texas.
During a Monday meeting of the university's Faculty Council, Weinberg said he would write in his syllabus that his class is not open to students who carry guns.
He said he accepts the likelihood that he will have to go to court to defend his views, and considers the gun law an issue of his First Amendment rights versus state legislation.
Gun Free UT posted a video of Weinberg speaking at the Monday meeting. Gun Free UT calls itself a broad association of faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni who oppose guns on campus.
In the video, Weinberg discusses his willingness to challenge the law: "This has never been heard in a federal court. Certainly not in the Supreme Court - the issue of whether or not the admission of guns into a classroom puts an undue burden on First Amendment rights. I think it should be. ... I am willing by my own actions to expose myself to a lawsuit in this. ... We should not prejudge the constitutional issue. We should allow the courts to decide this issue. And I am not so sure that they wouldn't decide it in the way that we would find agreeable."
Under SB 11, universities can establish their own "rules, regulations, or other provisions regarding the carrying of concealed handguns on the campus of the institution" for specific safety considerations. This means that certain parts of campuses could be declared off-limits to concealed guns.
But universities "may not establish provisions that generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus of the institution," the bill states.
Private schools in Texas can opt out of campus carry. Some colleges that have already opted out include Southern Methodist University, Rice University, St. Edward's University, Texas Christian University and Trinity University.
A campus carry resolution posted Monday, endorsed by UT's Faculty Council and General Faculty includes the following provisions:
"1. Classrooms should be gun-exclusion zones.
"2. When any part of a building is a gun-exclusion zone, the whole building should be a gun-exclusion zone."
Attorney General Ken Paxton has already said that banning guns in the classroom would violate SB 11.
"If an institution prohibited the carrying of concealed handguns in a substantial number of classrooms, a court would likely conclude that the effect would be to 'generally prohibit' license holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus," Paxton said.
He said SB 11 does not allow individual professors to "designate their classrooms as areas in which the possession of the concealed handguns by licensees is not allowed."
Authority to make rules on concealed handguns is held by the university president or other chief executive officer, Paxton said.
UT President Gregory Fenves is set to announce his rules on campus carry in February. The rules will have to be approved by the university's Board of Regents.