Gun advocate Larry Pratt caused a stir on campus April 4 as audience members argued with the speaker and insulted each other with pro-choice, Black Lives Matter and anarcho-communist activists protesting the event hosted by UT’s Young Americans for Liberty.
Local Black Lives Matter activist Julian Mack put his hands in the air, shouting “Hands up don’t shoot!” after the lights went out twice. He was escorted out, but returned later for the open floor discussion.
Prior to the talk, protestors held signs saying, “I stand with Planned Parenthood” in response to the libertarian organization’s promotional flyers stating Planned Parenthood murders children and guns protect children.
“Planned Parenthood offers a lot of great resources for woman such as HIV testing, and I think a lot of people forget about the other things Planned Parenthood does for women,” said Nathaniel Orwig, a local anarcho-communist.
Other protestors, including Barbie Huffman, said they support Planned Parenthood, but also believe gun-free zones are necessary for a safe environment.
Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, argued in favor of YAL’s position on gun-free zones saying that “gun-free zones don’t work.”
“UT should allow guns on campus,” said Jori Schlievert, chapter president of YAL. “[Campuses] would be a lot safer if people with conceal carry permits were allowed to exercise their rights on public property.”
In his lecture, Pratt outlined the use of firearms in American history, citing his main argument in defense of gun ownership – “the people” use guns to defend against “lawlessness from authorities.”
From the Minute Men in the American War for Independence to the Deacon’s for Defense in the 1950s, he said guns are associated with freedom and remind people they “can use those arms against the government.”
Pratt extended his argument to the more recent mass shootings.
“Ninety-eight percent of mass murders take place in gun-free zones,” Pratt said. The federal law that established gun-free zones nationwide results in the “absence of guns in the rights hands.”
The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 prohibited unauthorized individuals from possessing or discharging a firearm in a school zone. A similar bill passed in 1994 required states receiving federal funding to enact policies that would expel any students who brought a gun, knife or other weapons to school for one year.
Pratt argues these two laws – and gun control advocates – are to blame for mass shootings.
“If we react to dreadful crimes by focusing on the gun and coming to the conclusion that if we get rid of guns, then we are missing the fact that, [a country like] France, which has a near total gun ban, had a dreadful massacre at a theater,” he said in an interview after the event.
Gun Owners of America, the second largest gun lobby in America, and Pratt advocate for the repeal of both laws.
Like the debate in D.C., gun reform is split down party lines at UT.
Shane Logan, chairman of the College Republicans, said the gun-free zones make those zones more of a target, allowing people who want to commit a crime to enter schools and malls.
In contrast, President of the College Democrats Sydney Jones said guns make campuses more dangerous and would not have changed anything in Parkland.
“I think that the presence of a gun would’ve made the situation more dangerous, more tense,” Jones said. “When law enforcement comes in and they see someone with a gun, they might mistake them for the shooter.”
Instead, Jones believes “common sense gun reform” is the key to preventing future school shootings.
“I believe in incrementalism,” she said. “I know the speaker [Pratt] said tonight that background checks don’t always work, and I think background checks need improvement and strengthening to make them more efficient.”
Not everyone shares Jones’ point of view.
“Common sense gun reform is a euphemism for gun confiscation,” Pratt said – an argument shared by Schlievert and Logan.
Historically, authoritarian regimes such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela have confiscated guns as a “common tyrannical tactic,” Pratt said, warning the audience that this could happen in the U.S.
There is no perfect consensus on the effectiveness of background checks.
In a 2003 review by a CDC task force, “inconsistent findings” were found, neither rejecting nor confirming the effectiveness of background checks, reported National Public Radio.
A 2000 study found that the 1994 Brady Act – that instituted backgroun
d checks and waiting periods – did not reduce homicide rates.
Daniel Webster and Garen Wintemute found in a 2015 analysis of studies published over 15 years that expanding background checks could prevent future homicides.
While audience members insulted each other, and argued about gun reform, race relations and abortion, after the lecture, both sides agreed on one point – the value of public discourse.
“The only way we’re going to have a debate is by respecting each other,” Logan said.