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Tricia Barker. Photo by Rowan Lehr.

Does she or doesn’t she?

That question was a popular ad slogan for Clairol for many years – as in, “Does she color her hair or not?”

Nowadays, it’s a logical question about whether a college teacher is packing heat.

And just like some women are coy about their hair coloring, associate professor of English and creative writing instructor –– and licensed firearm owner – Tricia Barker isn’t saying whether she holsters a handgun while teaching at Tarrant County College-Trinity River Campus.

“I am not going to publicly state whether I will be carrying or not, but I will say that this new environment has made me consider something I never would have considered in my wildest dreams when I first started teaching,” she said.

SB 11, the campus carry law approved in 2015, allows licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. The law was recently extended to include community colleges. Teachers and students alike have expressed concern for safety. Unlike most traditional college campuses, which are kind of like hermetically sealed bubbles or little islands for little darlings, most community campuses are set in urban environments and cater primarily to commuter students. There’s a lot of coming and going on community college campuses. And with all of that hubbub and all those bulges underneath clothing, it would be easy for a radical person who’s pissed off about something – Western ways, the lack of good public transportation, too few green Skittles, threats to outlaw bump stocks on AR-15s  – to take a gun to school and create havoc. Or worse.

There’s also the problem of free speech. Will speech really be free anymore if non-packing students are afraid they’ll get shot for possibly offending a gun enthusiast with a political opinion?

Barker has an opinion based on an upbringing that is probably not that unique in Texas. She is the liberal child of right-wing parents.

“I have mixed feelings about the policy,” she said. “Mainly, it is my belief that more guns equals more violence.”

Embracing a liberal slant came from years of observing the world around her, she said.

“I read widely and came to my own conclusions about life at an early age,” she said.

But it is not unusual in Texas for liberals to be permitted to hunt and fish and, yes, carry concealed weapons. Barker grew up in the country and knows plenty about handling guns. She has also taken self-defense and gun training courses. Gun safety was drilled into her head at an early age. She hopes her fellow teachers and students are equally careful.

“I have always thought of the halls of education as holy and uplifting places where students can work on dreams and goals,” she said. “The idea of guns on campus doesn’t fit with my ideas of talking openly and safely.”

The gun control debate is gurgling hot in the wake of Las Vegas. The debate will probably continue to gurgle for a long time to come since mass shootings are used as proof to support both sides of the argument. People who don’t like guns see mass shootings as evidence that guns should be controlled. People who like guns see mass shootings as proof that we should all be allowed to carry guns for protection from psychos. Add to that our lack of faith in the nation’s lawmakers to take a reasoned and open-minded approach to anything, and, well, it makes us want to invest in flak jackets.

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