On the first day of classes at the University of Texas in this city that revels in its own oddball creativity, students protested a law allowing concealed handguns on state college campuses by carrying something they thought was just as ridiculous and out of place: Thousands of sex toys. “These laws won’t protect anyone. The campus doesn’t want them,” said an organizer of the protest, Jessica Jin. “It’s absurd. So, I thought, we have to fight absurdity with absurdity.” On Wednesday, Ms. Jin, a recent graduate who majored in violin, helped distribute brightly colored dildos to hundreds of students gathered to protest the law that took effect Aug. 1. Their plan was to carry the toys openly to class, attached to their backpacks, to show that they think that guns have no place on campus and could stifle the open exchange of ideas. “For the state to deny research about gun safety and allow this in classrooms is kind of obscene,” Ms. Jin said. “What better way to show how we feel?” Texas has long issued concealed handgun permits but banned guns from college campuses. After repeated efforts, the Republican-controlled State Legislature passed a law in 2015 lifting the ban. Similar laws and court rulings have allowed guns onto campuses in a handful of others states in recent years, including Idaho and Colorado. The chancellor of the University of Texas system and the president of the flagship university in Austin have said that they are against guns on campus but that they have no choice but to implement the law.
Many students who gathered to protest the new law carried sex toys, thousands of which were distributed to the crowd. “These laws won’t protect anyone,” an organizer said. Some faculty members say the administration is trying to limit the effect of gun laws while not antagonizing state lawmakers for fear of future legislation that could loosen gun laws on campus even more. Many students have not been so acquiescent. Rather than turn to traditional marches or sit-ins, millennials raised on satirical news programs like “The Daily Show” have turned instead to satire as the most sincere form of expression. The campaign is a protest in the age of Instagram — neatly packaged and ready to go viral. Students took selfies with their new toys and shot video of crowds chanting, with the toys raised like fists. Then Roy Wood Jr., a correspondent for “The Daily Show” who travels the country doing satirical sketches, appeared to cheers of the smitten students. With a camera crew trailing him, and a producer shooing would-be Instagram users out of the way, Mr. Wood led the crowd on a march that veered from ridiculous to dead serious.
The police stood nearby, perplexed but not alarmed. Texas law makes open carry of the sex toy potentially illegal, Bob Harkins, an associate vice president for the campus safety, said, but only if people act obscenely. The police had no plans, he added, to arrest anyone for using the toy to make a political point. “They’ve certainly gotten attention,” Joan Neuberger, a professor of Russian history said of the campaign. Some professors, she said, had been circulating petitions and drafting condemnations, but the students have been much more effective. “Legally, we have probably lost, at least for now. But culturally, they do a lot to stigmatize the behavior — to say you may have a right, but guns are not acceptable here.” Students in favor of guns on campus have been notably quiet on Wednesday. Though a spokesman for the nationwide group Students for Campus Carry said it had several members on the campus of 50,000, Brian Bensimon, who identified himself as the group’s lone member at the university, said the local chapter was “essentially defunct.” On Wednesday. Mr. Bensimon silently held up a sign amid the protesters, suggesting a peaceful coexistence. “I may be out of step with this campus,” Mr. Bensimon, a government major, said. “But I’m not out of step with this state.”