Almost three weeks ago, I sat in a cramped classroom at my university’s student union with two dozen other students and faculty. It was snowing outside, but stifling hot in the small room with so many bodies and not enough moving air. No one complained. We were gathered for a purpose: we didn’t want guns in our classrooms.
For many years, the NRA and ALEC have tried to pass legislation that would allow more relaxed gun control on West Virginia’s campuses. Year after year, they are shot down. A gun-control lobbyist told me, “We basically thought no one would notice” when another gun-bill was on the voting agenda; that’s how little attention people ordinarily pay it.
But then something wild happened.
Just one day earlier, I had found myself sitting in that cramped room talking about PR and social media protest strategies. In that discussion, we learned that our university’s administration had thrown in the towel on fighting the bill. Not only that, but they helped write the bill.
Yeah, you heard me, write it.
What followed was nothing short of miraculous. Students and professors banded together to oppose WV HB 2591, legislation that would allow anyone over the age of 18 with a permit to bring a gun to campus. For two weeks, we orchestrated walk-outs and phone banks, and day after day, people climbed into vans and drove to the capital to sit in the gallery and watch democracy ignore them.
I made sixty-seven calls in twenty-four hours.
I had one senator call me “sweetheart” and another call me “honey.”
Well, this “sweetheart” wrote three open letters, each more scathing than the last. As the letters came out and various presses began picking up our story, those legislators weren’t calling me “sweetheart” anymore. A receptionist told me, less than enthusiastically, that she “recognized my name” when I called.
I was only one of many doing this work on my campus. But, how did our university’s president respond?
In the midst of his employees running for days on end with only two hours of sleep, fighting for the right to have a gun-free workplace, President Gordon Gee responded, “It is not uncommon to find ourselves entrenched in rhetoric and emotions. But I ask that each of you pause for a moment of your own quiet. I ask that you sit still with your thoughts.”
It is worth noting, the protesting professors and students taking action alongside me were overwhelmingly women. When we asked our administration for help in fighting this bill that would disproportionately affect us, what did he do? He told us to sit down, consider our emotions, and wait.
He mansplained to the entire university.
But why? What would cause a man who was nominated the most well-liked university president in America to be so out of touch with his students and faculty? Why would he not only refuse to aid in fighting the bill, but actually go so far as to help draft it?
The answer is money, and the NRA has a whole, whole lot of it.
They’ve used that money to do some nefarious things in the past. They basically made it impossible to research gun violence on a national level and have spent fifty-four times as much money as individuals lobbying Congress. The vast majority of the over $200 million they poured into our democracy the last decade was spent fighting the campaigns of people who oppose them. It’s no wonder people like my university’s president are hesitant to be the ones who finally took on the NRA.
After each mass shooting, the NRA’s pocketbooks grow. The majority of their budget comes from membership dues, and after a major tragedy like the Sandy Hook shooting, they see spikes in enrollment of up to 100,000. Their pocket books get bigger the more us students that die. That’s not a love for The Second Amendment fueling them; that’s blood money, and my university’s president’s pockets are soaked with it.
Despite overwhelming odds and our own administration appearing apathetic at best, we managed to foil the NRA’s best efforts. The West Virginia Senate Judiciary committee shot down HB 2519 in a 7-9 vote proving that sometimes, all it takes to bring down a Goliath like the NRA is a few good men, women, and maybe a sweetheart or two.
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