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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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Bullet Points: ‘We will continue to speak out,’ says Gun Free UH admin


In October 2015, history senior Alex Colvin began emailing his professors out of concern for UH’s lack of mobilization against campus carry. He considered that online surveys and discussion forums about the issues were insufficient.

When he discovered that students, faculty and staff felt the same way, Colvin created a petition and a closed Facebook group called Gun Free UH calling for the repeal of Texas Senate Bill 11. Effective Aug. 1, the bill authorizes handgun license holders to carry concealed guns on campus.

Following the first installment of our weekly Bullet Points series, The Cougar interviewed Colvin on why he thinks guns should not be allowed on campus.

The Cougar: How do you interpret the Second Amendment?

Alex Colvin: As a UH history senior who has studied the colonial period and the American Revolution, there is little doubt to me or among historians that the Second Amendment was intended as a right within a military context. There are no credible historians who I’ve read claiming otherwise. Legal scholars, likewise, are the first to point out the errors of (late Justice Antonin Scalia)’s District of Columbia v. Heller opinion. Any serious student of the American Revolution would recognize that (James) Madison was very concerned with Virginia’s ratification of the Bill of Rights because Virginia — especially Patrick Henry — was concerned with slave rebellions and how that might play out if everyone had an immutable right to a musket.

There was also George Washington’s constant griping about the sorry state of the Continental Army of which there is overwhelming evidence in his letters. Madison, who held huge political sway, had to demonstrate extraordinary statesmanship to Virginia while trying to ensure that, if needed, we had an Army we could depend on to defend us.

Not since 1780 does the Supreme Court deviate from that historical understanding until Scalia. In his concluding remarks, however, Scalia left wide latitude for state-imposed gun control, and places like schools were not ordinary places but “sensitive” places where states and administrative bodies were certainly well within their rights to regulate gun use. Just because some states, their governors and lawmakers — especially Texas — have refused to see Scalia’s conclusions for what they clearly imply does not mean he never said such things.

TC: How do you believe the events in Orlando reflect on gun control?

AC: They don’t reflect gun control at all, that’s the problem. (The shooter Omar Mateen) had easy access to a “civilianized machine gun.” My “civilianized machine gun” is a term that makes gun zealots apoplectic because they think the technical distinctions between a machine gun and, say, an AR-15 assault rifle are somehow worth knowing. They also make a weapon with a 30 to 50 round-magazine capable of killing many people at once somehow more socially acceptable.

What’s actually worth knowing is not the technical differences, but that the term “assault weapon” was a generic advertising term first used by gun manufacturers and gun magazine publishers promoting civilized versions of military weapons. Nowhere does one see their original designs being promoted for civilian use. All assault weapons — the AR-15 or the M16 — were originally designed for rapid mass killing of enemy combatants in a war setting. They were not designed for personal use or for sports hunting. Those ideas came later as advertisers began exploiting the civilian consumer market in the 1980s as the survivalist movement began gaining popularity. Back issues of popular gun magazines make this abundantly clear.

TC: Do you believe campus shootings are more or less likely to occur with the passing of campus carry?

AC: The term “shootings” needs to be understood in its full context. It is not just as a term to imply homicides, which is the metrical lens gun zealots always try to view gun violence through. It includes suicides, accidents and negligent homicides. Will they occur on college campuses where guns are permitted? They already have. Will they increase? They already have. Will untrained students capable of obtaining a weapon be our stalwart defenders rushing to the aid the poor defenseless sitting ducks? Thus far, the heroes have not shown up.

This is, however, the fantasy they perpetuate as if it’s credible as a pristine “self-defense” model protected by the Second Amendment.  Where, then, is the evidence from Utah or Colorado where gun-toting students have fended off the bad guys with their guns? What we see instead are reported cases of gun mishandling or accidental shootings resulting in injury. What we also see are students with concealed guns not using them against shooters or secretly bringing them to campus in defiance of school policy.

TC: Since campus carry’s passing, what do you hope the University will do to protect students?

AC: UH is in conflict with itself, sadly. It is constrained by the Texas legislature on the one hand, but has a moral imperative to protect the well-being of the campus community on the other. Personally, I would hate to be Dr. Renu Khator, but if I were I would somehow summon the courage to make a strong statement against campus carry. Our SGA president certainly did that at the second campus carry forum that I attended. I was proud to sit next to President Smith.  We did not see that in Dr. Khator’s statement to legislatures when she appeared in the Texas State Affairs Committee hearing last spring. That was disappointing.  She renounced her moment in the sun to political expediency.

The good news is, if marginally so, that the draft policy issued was very strong.  I am grateful to the (campus carry) work group. My hope is Dr. Khator will not try to weaken it by asking for a re-draft which dilutes it.

TC: For students who advocate for concealed carry, what do you think they should do to avoid endangering others?

AC: The student advocates for “concealed carry” are not interested in non-injury to their peers. They are already injuring students by lobbying and advocating for an unjust law crafted by the NRA and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council that was wholly denounced by scores of college students, faculty, staff, parents and supporters across Texas and the nation. Concealed carry advocates see only their rights and not the danger of giving untrained amateurs easy access to loaded weapons in a learning environment where no registry will be permitted, no mental health evaluation will be required and where instructors and students are already putting their schools on notice that they will not teach or attend. In the case of (University of Texas), some have already left.

We’ve been doing deep research into groups like Students for Concealed Carry for months. They are a rather “gundementalist” group who have no qualms about allying with the NRA, gun extremist groups like Gun Owners of America and other groups who have essentially bullied universities into compliance with obscene laws, campus carry statutes and cutthroat litigation nationwide. We’ll be releasing our in-depth finding in the months to come on a specially designed website. You can read the abstract here.

TC: You website states that you will participate in “principled dissent against unjust laws.” Will you continue these actions after campus carry takes effect on Aug. 1? 

AC: We will continue to speak out and to repudiate S.B. 11 until it is repealed. Our members are already involved in the Texas political landscape and this is part of that new agenda. As you may know, Houston’s new mayor, Sylvester Turner, is a UH alumnus. Very early on, he gave us a very powerful statement that was featured on the evening broadcast of Channel 11 News: “Campus carry is a dangerous law that will only lead to disaster.”

TC: What do you believe is the future of UH once campus carry is in effect?

AC: UH will gain a reputation as being a school that allows armed students in its classrooms. There’s only so much advertising hype and glossy PR can do to compensate for that. The “effects” are already in play. Students are leaving, parents are declining to send their children here, instructors are seeking safer schools and some are retiring early. Other instructors are making adjustments to their teaching methods while others are working behind the scenes to push back against campus carry. The majority are allied with us although there are some who are quiet allies.

UH must decide what kind of school it wants to be: One that allows itself to cower before an unjust law or one which puts its campus community’s safety first. It really boils down to what it considers its duty is to its legacy — if it truly wants to be Tier One in a respectable, principled way.

Alex Colvin has written for the opinion section of The Cougar. 

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