Tarrant County College Bans Symbolic ‘Empty Holster’ Protest

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: Tarrant County College

Tarrant County College (TCC) repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of student protesters who intended to participate in the national "Students for Concealed Carry on Campus" protest by wearing empty holsters. The protest, held on college campuses throughout the country, is part of an effort to promote "the legalization of concealed carry by licensed individuals on college campuses." Two years in a row, TCC students were told that they could not wear the holsters anywhere on campus and had to confine all protests to tiny "free speech zones," such as the approximately twelve-foot circle of concrete comprising the "free speech zone" on TCC’s South Campus. TCC was the only public school in the country that banned the protest. Ultimately, with the help of FIRE and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the students filed a lawsuit to vindicate their rights and defeat TCC’s unconstitutional policies and practices. They won a temporary restraining order in 2009, and TCC amended its policies but failed to properly protect constitutional rights. The plaintiffs amended their complaint, and the case went to a hearing in January 2010. In March 2010, the U.S. District Court upheld the students’ right to wear empty holsters as part of their protest—even in classrooms—and ruled that a new TCC ban on "cosponsorship" of campus activities was unconstitutional. 

  • Students win right to protest with empty holsters

    November 9, 2009

    A federal judge in Texas on Friday granted a temporary injunction allowing two students to wear empty holsters in public spaces at Tarrant County College as part of a national series of student protests this week over laws or policies barring concealed weapons on college campuses. The students — backed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — sought the injunction against rules that would have limited them to wearing the empty holsters in a “free speech zone” and not elsewhere on campus. The judge agreed with their claim that they were likely to prevail in their challenge to […]

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  • Community college sued over limits on rallies

    November 6, 2009

    Two students — backed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — are suing the Tarrant County College District, charging that its limits on rallies are violations of First Amendment rights, the Associated Press reported. The college permits protest activities only in a limited free speech zone, and requires advance permission to schedule events there. College officials say that the rules are consistent with federal and state requirements. But the students say that they are being blocked from engaging in legitimate protest. The students want to rally on behalf of the right to carry concealed weapons on campus and […]

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  • Tarrant County College sued for banning empty holster protest

    November 5, 2009

    Two students at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth have filed suit, saying their free speech rights are being trampled by the school, which has forbade them from wearing empty holsters on campus as part of a national protest. The holster motif springs from a group calling itself Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, formed by a University of North Texas student in response to the deadly 2007 shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. The organization claims 40,000 members in all 50 states. The holster-sans-weapon intends to convey a feeling of vulnerability to campus crime. The Tarrant County suit, filed […]

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  • Texas students challenge protest restrictions

    November 5, 2009

    Two community college students who favor carrying concealed weapons are challenging their school’s restrictions on campus protests, their attorneys announced Thursday. Clayton Smith and John Schwertz Jr. filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Tarrant County College District. They contend the college system restricts their First Amendment rights by controlling the time, place and manner of protests. The students plan to participate in a nationwide demonstration next week known as “empty holster protests,” calling attention to police forbidding concealed weapons on campus. School officials have limited the protest to the front porch of the student center and prohibited handing out […]

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  • Controversy continues to surround guns on campus

    May 27, 2008

    Civil rights advocates charge administrators at the Fort Worth, Texas, Tarrant County College (TCC) placed unconstitutional prohibitions on a symbolic protest organized by students advocating the right to carry concealed weapons on campus. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC), a national organization with 30,000 members supporting “the right of concealed handgun license holders to carry concealed handguns on college campuses,” organized an empty holster protest to express discontent with current laws banning concealed weapons on campus. The protest took place during the week of April 21-25 with 3,800 participants stretched over 600 campuses, but TCC was not one of […]

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  • Student says college violated rights by banning protest

    May 23, 2008

    A college violated some students’ constitutional rights by not allowing them to wear empty gun holsters as part of a nationwide protest over campuses’ ban on concealed weapons, a student claims. Brett Poulos said that although he asked permission before last month’s demonstration, a Tarrant County College official said empty holsters could not be worn anywhere on campus. Poulos said he was told students could protest only in the “free-speech zone”—a 12-by-12-foot concrete platform. “It was really upsetting to me because they wouldn’t provide me a reason,” said Poulos, 20, of Arlington. “And I’ve never seen anyone protest there. I’ve […]

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  • Why can’t students say ‘guns’ in school?

    August 7, 2013

    by Glenn Garvin Miami Herald   Media snicker of the day: those crazy gun nuts, worried that the government is out to snatch their constitutional rights along with their AK-47s. 60 Minutes is the latest to have a chuckle, playing a commercial for a Washington, D.C.-area firearms show that that urges viewers to “Celebrate the Second Amendment and get your guns while you still can!” My own hunch is that the sheer number of Americans who own guns (the low estimate is something over 40 million) will keep their Second Amendment rights off the endangered-species list for the foreseeable future. […]

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  • Federal lawsuit filed against TCC’s free-speech zones

    August 7, 2013

    by Bill Hanna Star-Telegram Two Tarrant County College students have filed a federal lawsuit against the school after being told that their protest of the school’s policy banning concealed weapons on campus would be limited to designated areas. Clayton Smith and John Schwertz Jr., who are students at TCC Northeast Campus in Hurst, wanted to wear empty holsters on campus next week, but were told that they could protest only in a designated free-speech zone. The lawsuit, filed by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, wants the court to issue a temporary restraining order saying the free-speech zones, and […]

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  • College can’t restrict empty-holster demonstration

    August 7, 2013

    by Associated Press Associated Press A federal court decision will let Tarrant County College students wear empty holsters in public areas when they protest a ban of concealed weapons on campus next week. However, they can’t wear the holsters in the Fort Worth-area school’s classrooms and hallways. Clayton Smith and John Schwertz sued because officials limited the protest to a table on the front porch of the student center, and told them they couldn’t wear empty holsters. U. S. District Judge Terry R. Means of Fort Worth granted a temporary restraining order on Friday. It prevents Tarrant County College from […]

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  • This Month in FIRE History: Tarrant County College Bans Symbolic ‘Empty Holster’ Protest

    May 25, 2012

    Four years ago this month, FIRE become embroiled in a battle that would end in a decisive victory for free speech in the courts.  The controversy first began in March 2008, when Tarrant County College (TCC) student Brett Poulos attempted to organize an “Empty Holster Protest.” In conjunction with other protests spearheaded by Students for Concealed Carry on Campus across the country, TCC students would peacefully attend class and perform other daily tasks while wearing empty holsters to signify opposition to state laws and school policies denying concealed handgun license holders the same rights on college campuses that they are […]

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  • Tarrant County College Ordered to Pay $240,000 after Losing Battle against the First Amendment

    October 15, 2010

    Attention, college administrators: Attempting to defend your institution’s unconstitutional speech code in court is very, very expensive. Unfortunately for Texas taxpayers, Tarrant County College (TCC) is the latest school to learn this lesson the hard way. About 240,000 times harder than it needed to be, in fact. Torch readers will remember that back in March, TCC’s speech code was found unconstitutional as a result of litigation coordinated by FIRE and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU-TX). FIRE and the ACLU-TX worked with Fort Worth attorney Karin Cagle to bring a constitutional challenge to TCC’s speech code on behalf of student Clayton […]

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  • FIRE Launches New Video Series With Short Film on Censorship of Gun-Related Speech

    June 30, 2010

    PHILADELPHIA, June 30, 2010—Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is proud to release a new short film, “Empty Holsters: Gun Speech on America’s Campuses,” highlighting widespread campus censorship of student speech about guns. The film is the first in a new FIRE series focusing on how colleges and universities across America are preventing students and faculty members from speaking out on the weightiest political issues of the day. “In the wake of Monday’s Supreme Court decision in McDonald v. Chicago, debate about the Second Amendment and gun rights is sure to be hotter than ever,” said FIRE […]

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  • ‘Star-Telegram’ on Tarrant County College Victory

    March 25, 2010

    The Star-Telegram of Fort Worth, Texas, ran an excellent editorial on Wednesday about FIRE’s and the ACLU of Texas’ victory for free speech at Tarrant County College: The Tarrant County College administration has long operated with a heavy paternalistic hand, trying to keep the five-campus institution an insular place. But that’s been counterproductive to one of the college’s vital missions. “Rather than recognizing that its campus is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas and nurturing the free speech of its students, TCC has largely deprived students of any organized assistance in expressing their views or, indeed, in learning the very process […]

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  • Win for Free Speech at Tarrant County College Grabbing Headlines

    March 17, 2010

    As we reported yesterday regarding our victory at Tarrant County College (TCC) in Texas, where students had been repeatedly denied the right to hold an “empty holster” protest, the federal district court’s decision in favor of First Amendment rights on campus is a big win for student speech. Specifically, as our press release notes: In his decision, U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means found that TCC’s reliance on a policy prohibiting “disruptive activities” to restrict students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz from holding an “empty holster” protest violated the First Amendment. Judge Means further ruled that TCC’s sweeping  prohibition on “cosponsorship,” […]

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  • Victory for Free Speech on Campus: Federal Court Strikes Down Gun Rights Protest Restrictions at Tarrant County College

    March 16, 2010

    As announced in our press release earlier this afternoon, we received word late yesterday that a federal district court found restrictions on symbolic speech on campus maintained by Tarrant County College (TCC) to be unconstitutional. The ruling is a striking victory for the First Amendment on campus. In his decision, U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means found that TCC’s reliance on a policy prohibiting “disruptive activities” to restrict students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz from holding an “empty holster” protest violated the First Amendment. Judge Means further ruled that TCC’s sweeping prohibition on “cosponsorship,” which forbade students and faculty from […]

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  • Victory for Free Speech on Campus: Federal Court Strikes Down Gun Rights Protest Restrictions at Tarrant County College

    March 16, 2010

    FORT WORTH, Texas, March 16, 2010—Late yesterday, in a striking victory for the First Amendment on campus, a federal district court in Texas ruled that a number of restrictions on students’ speech at Tarrant County College (TCC) are unconstitutional. In his decision, U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means found that TCC’s reliance on a policy prohibiting “disruptive activities” to restrict students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz from holding an “empty holster” protest violated the First Amendment. Smith and Schwertz had turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “Yesterday’s ruling is just the latest in an […]

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  • Judge in Tarrant County College Trial ‘Astounded’ By Free Speech Restrictions

    January 15, 2010

    Tarrant County College (TCC) students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz Jr.—who, with the help of FIRE and the ACLU of Texas, filed a federal lawsuit in November to challenge TCC’s “free speech zone” policy—finally got their day in court this week. In fact, they got three days in court. And as the bench trial that began on Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Terry Means in the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, drew to a close yesterday, preliminary reports seem promising. On Wednesday, Bill Hanna of The Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) reported that Judge Means was taken aback […]

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  • Hearing Today in ‘Free Speech Zone’ Lawsuit in Texas

    January 12, 2010

    The Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) is reporting on today’s hearing in federal court regarding FIRE’s case at Tarrant County College (TCC). As Torch readers will remember, TCC violated the constitutional rights of student protesters who intended to participate in the national “Students for Concealed Carry on Campus” protest by wearing empty holsters—just like students around the country were doing. The students were told that they could not wear the holsters anywhere on campus and had to confine all protests to tiny “free speech zones.” Ultimately, with the help of FIRE and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the students […]

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

    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 […]

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  • Rights in the News: FIRE’s Campaigns in Texas, California, and Georgia Get Results

    November 6, 2009

    FIRE has been working hard to keep Torch readers up to date on the progress of our many cases this week. First and foremost is our case at Tarrant County College (TCC) in Texas, where a federal district court issued a temporary restraining order today prohibiting TCC from censoring an “empty holster” protest to be held next week. Finally, after being prevented from doing so for two years in a row, the TCC members of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus will be able to stage their week-long peaceful protest. News of this victory for free speech comes just a […]

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  • Victory for First Amendment on Campus: Federal Court Grants Temporary Restraining Order Against Free Speech Zone, Permitting ‘Empty Holster’ Protest

    November 6, 2009

    In a victory for First Amendment rights on campus, a federal district court in Texas has granted two students at Tarrant County College (TCC) a temporary restraining order prohibiting TCC from censoring an “empty holster” protest scheduled for next week. The court’s decision to grant the order came two days after the students filed a motion requesting a temporary restraining order, arguing that by enforcing its “free speech zone” policy to quarantine next week’s protest, TCC would violate the students’ First Amendment rights. The request for a temporary restraining order accompanied a lawsuit seeking the permanent dismantling of TCC’s free […]

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  • After Two Years of Censorship, Lawsuit Challenges TCC’s Free Speech Zone

    November 5, 2009

    On Tuesday, in cooperation with FIRE and the ACLU of Texas, students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz, Jr., at Fort Worth’s Tarrant County College filed a lawsuit in federal district court in the Northern District of Texas challenging the constitutionality of TCC’s tiny free speech zone. Yesterday, Smith and Schwertz filed a motion requesting a temporary restraining order to prohibit TCC from (once again) preventing members of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) from holding an “empty holster” protest planned for November 9-13. One thing’s for sure: TCC can’t say it wasn’t warned. After all, TCC has been censoring SCCC protests on campus for […]

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  • Students File Lawsuit Challenging ‘Free Speech Zone’ After Repeated Censorship of Pro-Gun ‘Empty Holster’ Protest

    November 5, 2009

    FORT WORTH, Texas, November 5, 2009—Tarrant County College (TCC) students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz filed suit in federal district court late Tuesday against TCC. The students are seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent TCC from quarantining protected speech to the school’s tiny “free speech zone” when they participate in a national “empty holster” protest coordinated by Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) that is scheduled for November 9-13. TCC has prohibited students from participating in identical symbolic protests twice in the past two years. The suit was filed by Fort Worth attorney Karin Cagle in cooperation with […]

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  • CCAC First Amendment Scandal Earns a Critical Editorial

    June 23, 2009

    FIRE’s ongoing case at the Community College of Allegheny County is the focus of an editorial in today’s online edition of The Times Daily (Alabama). CCAC student Christine Brashier has been blocked by administrators from forming a gun-rights club on campus and was told to destroy all copies of her informational pamphlet. The editorial, while taking a stance against the position Brashier supports—allowing the concealed carry of handguns on campus—nevertheless comes out in favor of her free speech rights. Brashier, the paper writes, “has good reason to be upset. Colleges and universities should promote free speech rather than squelch it, […]

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  • Jefferson ‘Muzzle’ Awards for Censorship Given to Two Colleges Involved in FIRE Cases

    April 7, 2009

    Every year, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression awards the “Jefferson Muzzle” to a few of the year’s most egregious violators of free speech rights. For the second year in a row (and three out of the last four years), the Center has selected one or more of the malefactors in FIRE cases to receive this symbol of dishonor. This year, the administrations of Lone Star College–Tomball and Tarrant County College, both in Texas, received Muzzles for censoring gun-related speech in FIRE cases. As the Center reports: For suppressing on a community college campus several types […]

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  • ‘FIREside Chats’ Episode on Case at Tarrant County College

    June 9, 2008

    This week’s episode of FIRE’s podcast series FIREside Chats features FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley and Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program Adam Kissel discussing our ongoing case at Tarrant County College (TCC). Torch readers will recall that TCC prohibited its students from wearing empty gun holsters to protest policies that forbid students with concealed carry licenses from carrying concealed handguns on campus, and restricted the protest to TCC’s tiny and unconstitutional “free speech zone.” Today’s podcast covers the background of the case, includes updates not yet discussed on FIRE’s website, and calls for TCC […]

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  • FIRE to Discuss ‘Empty Holster Protest’ on NRA Radio Tonight

    May 29, 2008

    Tune in to the National Rifle Association’s radio broadcast tonight at 10:20 p.m. ET to hear Adam Kissel talk about our case at Tarrant County College. The national broadcast is available at www.nranews.com or on Sirius’s Patriot Network, Channel 144.

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  • Tarrant County College Responds to FIRE

    May 27, 2008

    On the heels of FIRE’s publicity campaign exposing Tarrant County College’s (TCC’s) refusal to allow an “empty holster” protest to take place on its south campus, TCC has broken its silence and responded to our April 24th letter. The response, from Vice Chancellor for Administration Erma J. Hadley, states that the decision to banish TCC student Brett Poulos and his peers to the school’s small free speech zone was made “based upon an evaluation of current circumstances facing our students and employees.” Hadley also cites TCC’s “Forum for Communication” policy and claims the school established a limited public forum reserved […]

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  • Media Covers FIRE’s Case at Tarrant County College

    May 27, 2008

    FIRE’s case at Tarrant County College (TCC)—where administrators prohibited students from holding an ‘empty holster’ protest—has garnered significant media attention. The Associated Press covered the story on Friday, quoting FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley on the unconstitutionality of the ban: Robert L. Shibley, vice president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said wearing empty holsters is similar to students donning black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War, a right that the Supreme Court upheld in 1969. “It’s important because it’s a matter of symbolic speech,” Shibley said. He also said several campus free-speech zones had been ruled […]

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  • Student criticizes TCC for banning empty gun holster

    May 23, 2008

    A student is alleging that the Tarrant County College District shot itself in the foot when it denied him permission to wear an empty gun holster to protest laws that keep concealed weapons off Texas campuses. The student, Brett Poulos, enlisted the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to help him battle the district after South Campus administrators told him in April that he could protest in the free-speech area but denied his request to wear a holster around campus. “TCC has cast aside decades-old Supreme Court precedent strongly protecting symbolic expression by refusing to recognize its students’ right […]

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  • Tarrant County College Bans Empty Holster Protest

    May 22, 2008

    As we reported in today’s press release, Tarrant County College (TCC) in Fort Worth, Texas, has banned students from wearing empty gun holsters as part of a protest against regulations and laws that prevent concealed carry license holders from carrying their guns on campus. Meant as a powerful metaphor for what these students see as being left defenseless under these regulations, this form of protest took place on campuses across the country this April. According to the organization that coordinated the event, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, the protest involved 3,800 students from 600 campuses nationwide. TCC appears to […]

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  • Tarrant County College Bans Symbolic ‘Empty Holster’ Protest; Banishes Students with Dissenting Opinions to Small Free Speech Zone

    May 22, 2008

    FORT WORTH, Texas, May 22, 2008—In a dramatic blow to freedom of expression, Tarrant County College (TCC) has prohibited its students from wearing empty gun holsters to protest policies that forbid students with concealed carry licenses from carrying concealed handguns on campus. A TCC administrator told interested students that they could not wear the holsters and could only conduct a protest in the school’s tiny and restrictive free speech zone. TCC student and protest organizer Brett Poulos has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “TCC has cast aside decades-old Supreme Court precedent strongly protecting […]

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