UT gun violence prevention activists open up about harassment

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Selina Eshraghi teaches college students how to lobby effectively. Last year, she noticed a lack of a collegiate voice in the March for Our Lives movement and decided to recruit more students to call for change.

Photo Credit: Chloe Bertrand | Daily Texan Staff

UT student activists supporting gun violence prevention have experienced frequent verbal and online harassment from the pro-gun community over the past couple years. 

House Bill 357, which would allow Texans to openly carry a handgun without a permit, was withdrawn April 5 after a pro-gun activist visited the homes of lawmakers, such as House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. While these events garner consistent coverage from media outlets, harassment of student activists occurs as well. Ana Lopez, who helped initiate the Cocks Not Glocks protest in 2016 against concealed handgun carry on campus, experienced harassment after the event. 

“The Speaker of the House, who is such a high-profile politician, is leaning moderate and received threats from gun rights advocacy groups,” said Lopez, Plan II and health and society senior. “I guess he understands now what activists go through every day.” 

In 2016, gun rights advocate Brett Sanders posted a video on Youtube depicting Lopez fatally shot with a firearm. While this was the most public threat towards Lopez, she said online harassment typically follows after she speaks to the press.

“These are the responsible gun owners that should be trusted with a firearm, but instead, they are harassing a 20-year-old on the Internet,” Lopez said. 

March for Our Lives Austin activists also experienced harassment when testifying at the Capitol on June 25 for red-flag laws, which would allow people to petition for the removal of gun owners’ permits. Government freshman Kelly Choi said Santa Fe High School survivors were present among pro-gun rights activists carrying their weapons.

“They were following us around, filming us and yelling at us,” Choi said. “Eventually, we had to be escorted out by Capitol police.”

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, was the chairman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Moody said he remembered the students’ intimidation and harassment. 

“I think it was the most disturbing and disrespectful thing I have ever seen in a committee hearing,” Moody said. “Don’t let this kind of behavior silence your voice. Your voice is critical to this process, and you are a necessary part of where we need to be going as a state.”

Selina Eshraghi, chemical engineering and radio-television-film sophomore, said she was also present at the testimony for March for Our Lives and has also been a victim of online threats.  

“They say, ‘Watch me come kill you or rape you, and you can’t defend yourself because you don’t have a firearm,’” Eshraghi said.

Eshraghi has continued lobbying at the Capitol throughout this legislative session. 

“Nobody wants people to die. We just see very different ways of achieving that goal,” Eshraghi said. “I think when we start seeing that of each other, our first reaction wouldn’t be, ‘Let me start threatening this person and call them names.’”