War Between Pro, Anti-Campus Carry Groups Gets Personal

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Last month, Students For Concealed Carry offered $5,000 to any “anti-campus carry conspiracy theorists” who could prove that the pro-campus carry group is funded by Tea Party groups or large gun-rights groups like the NRA.  The group described it as an "offer they can't refuse." Which may have been a bit of an overstatement, given that on April 1, the student gun group proudly announced that no one had taken it up on that $5,000 offer — a pretty sizable amount for a nonprofit organization that reportedly doesn’t even pay its leading activists.

The offer came in response to efforts by anti-campus carry activists at the University of Texas and the University of Houston to spread what the gun-rights group calls “rumors” about its origins and funding sources. Students for Concealed Carry says these alleged rumors first appeared in an article titled “The Secret History of the Campus Carry Movement” in The Trace, which describes itself as "an independent, nonprofit media organization dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States." The website's seed funding was in part provided by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

The article — written by veteran journalist Adam Weinstein, who has credits in GQ, The New York Times and New York Magazine, among others — traces the group’s success back to an organization called the Leadership Institute. LI has nothing to do with gun rights; its goal is to help conservative, student-led groups (like Students for Concealed Carry) get off the ground with some funding and resources. Which is precisely what Weinstein claims allowed the student gun-rights group to take off. He goes on to link Students for Concealed Carry to a group “far more conservative” than the NRA, Gun Owners of America, and its leader, Larry Pratt, claiming Pratt has used his “youth troops” in SCC to push for campus-carry legislation across the country.

So what’s the big deal, you may ask: A publication funded by an anti-gun group claims that a conservative gun-rights student-led organization has ties to larger, more powerful gun-rights organizations, who all believe and advocate for the same thing? Big whoop.

But Students for Concealed Carry Southwest Regional Director Antonia Okafor explains it this way: “It devalues the legitimacy of this organization being student-led,” she said. She admitted that of course the group has ties to other national pro-gun groups; she herself appears on NRA News once a week to update the group on campus carry, she said, and many campus SCC chapters may have received small, one-time donations from the Leadership Institute in the past. But it’s the idea that they are bankrolled by these large organizations, or directed by them like puppets, that she and SCC are trying to dispel. “The groups that have constantly tried to bring up those links know that that’s something they can do to try to discredit us,” she said, “and we’re trying to fight back.”

To be sure, the group has pushed back against critics. And a main target has been Alex Colvin, who leads Gun Free UH against campus carry.

Colvin, a nontraditional University of Houston undergrad in his mid-fifties, has gone out of his way to create anti-SCC ads. He has repeatedly called it a “Tea Party front group” — something he says he plans to prove in a lengthy research paper he’s working on. And he has specifically targeted Okafor, calling her a “propagandist” and criticizing her for supporting Ted Cruz and for writing “libertarian” articles for the right-wing website Campus Reform, which was founded by the Leadership Institute.

In response, Students for Concealed Carry sent out attack ads and press releases digging up a 15-year-old battery charge against Colvin in Florida, in which he was accused of shoving a woman to the ground because she was blocking the doorway to a party at his neighbor’s apartment. (The charges were dropped because of insufficient evidence, according to records the pro-gun group cited). Okafor took it a step further, citing a 2004 American Journal of Psychoanalysis article about “psychological projection,” a defense mechanism in which people project their angry feelings onto other people or things. Okafor says, “We can’t help but wonder” if this is the case for Colvin — that his “fear of campus carry” is a projection of “his own violent urges and personal shortcomings.” Okafor claims that finding out about this criminal charge made her so afraid of Colvin that she took a self-defense class. In the ad, she said, "Now that I know about Mr. Colvin's checkered past, the fact that he's practically stalking me on social media is downright scary. Men like him are the very reason I shouldn't be denied the means to protect myself on campus.”

The University of Houston released its campus-carry proposal last month, and predictably, Students for Campus Carry was not happy with it. It bans guns in just about every place administrators can conceivably restrict them — even in dorms, which is at odds with Attorney General Ken Paxton’s opinion that banning guns in dorms violates the campus carry legislation passed last summer. Colvin said he started advocating for restricting the law on campus (or entirely repealing the law in the state) after talking with many professors and faculty members about their opinions on campus carry.

“What I discovered, strangely enough, was this completely untapped vein of deep anxiety and concern and worry,” he said. “The more I got into it, the more I realized, everywhere I turned, SCC was involved [in pushing for the law].”

And his observation of the faculty may not be too far off. In March, a graduate student posted a picture of a PowerPoint slide that advised faculty to “be careful discussing sensitive topics,” “drop certain topics from your curriculum,” “not to ‘go there’ if you sense anger” and “limit student access off hours” — all because of the prospect of students having guns in their classrooms. Colvin’s crusade against Students for Campus Carry, he said, is rooted in his belief that they are advocating for a law that, in his opinion, “nobody” supports.

“They don’t like me,” he said, “and, yes, I’m going to be a thorn in their ass, and that’s just too bad.”

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