What ‘Rolling Stone’ Got Wrong About the “Fight Over Guns on Campus”

by Michael Newbern on March 24, 2017

AUSTIN, TEXAS – When Students for Concealed Carry (SCC) was approached last July by a young reporter from Rolling Stone magazine, we were skeptical. Rolling Stone is known for pandering to trendy views, not challenging them. However, the reporter promised that his article on the campus carry movement would be a long-form piece based on months of research, and we decided that not participating in the story would do more harm than participating.

After reading reporter Ben Wofford’s article “Inside the Fight Over Guns on Campus” (issue 1284, April 6, 2017, released March 24, 2017), we still believe we made the right decision; however, we’re not at all surprised to see that Wofford discarded most of what we said and twisted what little he didn’t discard. Here are a few of the things Rolling Stone and Ben Wofford get wrong or neglect to say about SCC and the campus carry movement, in the order that these errors and omissions appear in the article:

  1. Wofford quotes a University of Texas at Austin professor as saying, “I just hope someday the legislature allows guns to be carried into their offices.”

Wofford does not point out that, in reality, Texas legislators—like most employees of the State of Texas—are required by law to allow the licensed carry of handguns in their offices (in fact, unlike professors, legislators are required to allow both concealed and open—aka unconcealed—carry in their offices).

We know that Ben Wofford was aware of this fact because we sent him five different emails (July 13 and 19, 2016, and Jan. 8, 23, and 25, 2017) explaining this fact and because it is detailed in past press releases that we repeatedly made available to him.

 

  1. Wofford writes, “With few exceptions, the public overwhelmingly opposes guns on college campuses.”

He neglects to mention that one of those exceptions is Texas. There have been exactly three impartial, scientific polls on the subject since spring 2015. Two showed a statistical tie between Texas voters who support campus carry and those who oppose it (one poll found slightly more voters in support of campus carry, and the other found slightly more voters opposed to campus carry; however, the results of both were within the margins of error). The third poll found 51% of Texas voters supporting some measure of campus carry (with 25% supporting it everywhere and 26% supporting it in approved places) and only 37% opposing it altogether.

We know that Ben Wofford was aware of this fact because we sent him two emails (Jan. 9 and Feb. 8, 2017) explaining this fact.

 

  1. Wofford writes that there is “a discrepancy in Texas law that bars sex toys in public but not handguns on campus,” despite the fact that SCC demonstrated irrefutably that no such law exists.

We know that Wofford was aware that no such law exists because we sent him two emails (Sept. 15 and Oct. 11, 2016) explaining this fact.

 

  1. Despite having been there in person, Wofford fails to mention SCC’s response to the #CocksNotGlocks protest, which involved SCC members taking turns standing up at the protest, holding a sign of solidarity with the anti-campus carry protestors:

  1. Wofford writes, “[License to carry holder Nick] Rolland notes that a few armed civilians had fired up at [the 1966 University of Texas sniper].”

What Wofford fails to note is that survivors of that incident and law enforcement officers who responded to it credited those armed civilians with saving lives that day.

This fact was pointed out to Wofford in three carefully sourced and cited emails (July 28 and 29, 2016, and Feb. 13, 2017) from SCC.

  1. Writing about the national reaction to the first calls for campus carry that were made in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, Wofford writes, “[E]ven the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre disavowed the idea.”

We at SCC are not aware of any instance of LaPierre disavowing college campus carry in the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. What Wofford appears to be referring to is LaPierre’s disavowing of guns at K-12 schools, in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine massacre. This 1999 statement by LaPierre was covered in a 2013 article in Rolling Stone.

 

  1. Former SCC director Scott Lewis never told Wofford that the media exposure was “addictive.”

Lewis’ actual statement, which can be heard in an audio recording of the interview, was,

Unfortunately, the movement is harder to walk away from than you’d think. It kind of becomes an addiction. You get used to that rush—especially when you’re young and you realize that most of what you’ve done up to that point in your life has kind of been focused on yourself, and suddenly you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and you’re fighting for a cause you really believe in, and people are really listening to you—and that is addicting.

It’s clear from the audio recording that the comment was made not in reference to media attention but in reference to Lewis’ decision to return to SCC in 2010 to serve as Texas legislative director, after resigning from the national board of directors in 2008.

On March 11, a Rolling Stone fact-checker called Lewis to ask if he had ever said that the media attention was addicting. Lewis told the fact checker that he had not and provided the fact checker a transcript of the actual quote (which Lewis noted he’d copied from a recording of the interview). Despite the correction offered by Lewis, this out-of-context use of his words remains in the story.

 

  1. Wofford writes, “‘Why am I allowed to carry at a local movie theater, but not the campus theater?’ asks Lewis. ‘That’s the case we made.'”

This is the actual quote by Lewis:

One of the things that kept occurring to me as I was watching all this [news coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre] was I kept remembering the week before when I had gone to a play with my girlfriend at the time, who was—she was a theater major at Texas State University, and I had gone to a play with her at Texas State. And I distinctly remembered locking my gun in the vault of my car and thinking how silly it was that if I went to a community theater play in San Marcos, I could carry my gun. If I went to the local movie theater in San Marcos, I could carry my gun. But I was having to lock it up to go into a play on a university campus, and that just seemed like a silly inconsistency in the law. I didn’t think a lot about it at that time. I just remember thinking how kind of out of step that was with how the gun laws worked throughout the rest of the state. And, anyway, as I was watching the Virginia Tech news coverage, I thought back to the week before when I went to that play, and I just remember thinking, “That could have been me. What would the end result have been if somebody had started shooting in that theater? Would I have died thinking about my handgun that was locked in the car a hundred yards away, or would I have survived to tell my girlfriend’s mother how her daughter died in my arms or something like that?” I couldn’t think of any scenario that would play out that would be as favorable as me having the handgun I carried every day and being able to at least have a fighting chance.

[six minutes of conversation about SCC’s growth between the time of the Virginia Tech massacre and the massacre at Northern Illinois University]

We had a pretty disciplined message where we kind of eschewed the typical gun-rights talking points about “God-given rights” and  infringement on the Second Amendment and stuff like that. And we just tried to make the pragmatic case that this is a natural extension of what’s allowed everywhere else. We kind of made the case that I was making to myself the day of the Virginia Tech shooting, when I was thinking about a week before when I went to that play, when I was thinking, “Why am I allowed to carry at the municipal theater and the local movie theater but not in the campus theater?” And that’s kind of the case we made. We said, “Why are you letting these people have the means to defend themselves pretty much everywhere else they go but not here?”

 

  1. Wofford writes, “SAF’s founder, Alan Gottlieb, who is 69, hosted some of the SCC members at a 2007 conference outside Cincinnati.”

This statement is not inaccurate; however, in light of past accusations that SCC is secretly funded by the Second Amendment Foundation, a little context is necessary: A Cincinnati-based member of SCC’s original four-person board of directors was invited to give a short (approx. 10-min.) speech at the Cincinnati-based conference. In other words, SAF “hosted” a local student by providing him with a 10-minute speaking block at a free-to-attend conference taking place in his home city.

 

  1. Wofford writes, “[In 2009, SCC] lost its first battle in Texas — outflanked by opponents at UT, led by grad student John Woods, who had lost his girlfriend in the Virginia Tech shooting.”

Although it’s true that Texas’ campus carry bill failed in 2009, the suggestion that the loss was due to SCC being “outflanked by opponents at UT” is at best a partial truth and at worst a bit of creative writing on the part of Wofford.

Texas’ 2009 campus carry bill was authored by 13 of 31 Texas senators (including two prominent Democrats) and 75 of 150 Texas representatives (including several Democrats). It passed out of the Senate with the support of 20 of 31 senators, including four prominent Democrats.

The bill didn’t reach the House Calendars Committee (responsible for scheduling House floor votes) until one day after House Democrats began filibustering (through a technique known as “chubbing”) an unrelated Voter I.D. bill. When it became clear that the filibuster would last the next three days (until the voting deadline) and kill all pending legislation, the House Calendars Committee declined to schedule any more bills for votes, and the campus carry bill died.

One can argue that perhaps the bill would have passed out of the Senate sooner if not for the efforts of John Woods and his supporters at UT-Austin, but to give them full credit for the defeat of a bill that passed out of the Senate by an almost two-thirds majority, that had half of the House signed on as coauthors, and that ultimately fell victim to an unrelated filibuster is more than a little disingenuous.

 

  1. Wofford writes, “By the time Lewis’ efforts in Texas paid off last year — after three failed attempts — the NRA was calling the legislation ‘NRA-backed campus carry.'”

This raises two issues, the least significant of which is: Why is Wofford still talking about Lewis, whose last leadership role with SCC ended four years before the 2015 passage of Texas’ campus carry law? Wofford interviewed a half-dozen other SCC leaders, past and present, each for hours at a time, so why did only one make it into this story that is supposed to provide an “inside look” at the campus carry movement?

For that matter, why is there only one quote from John Woods and nothing from Colin Goddard, the two pillars of the anti-campus carry movement during the era that Lewis was active? What exactly does this story purport to provide an inside look at?

More significantly, Wofford is going out of his way to suggest that the NRA arrived late to the party and then pretended it was their idea all along. In reality, all of the campus carry bills considered by the Texas Legislature were backed by the NRA. This fact is easily verified by reviewing committee testimony from past sessions.

Lewis sent Wofford detailed information on the NRA’s support for campus carry, dating back to Jan. 2008, and, in an email dated Sep. 6, 2016, told Wofford, “[T]he NRA and their Texas affiliate the Texas State Rifle Association (TSRA) were by far SCC’s biggest allies in Texas. Aside from SCC, they were the only gun rights groups on the ground at the Texas Capitol, actively lobbying for campus carry bills.”

 

  1. Wofford writes, “No one, not even police, can ask students if they’re armed.”

On the contrary, a police officer can not only ask a student if he or she is armed; a police officer can also disarm the student if the officer feels unsafe during the interaction.

 

  1. Wofford writes, “But there are about 43 firearm accidents every day across this country, a statistic borne out at a handful of campus-carry universities. In 2011, at UT Austin, a fraternity brother was arrested for firing his rifle inside the house’s laundry room.”

There are four problems with this statement:

  • In 2011, UT-Austin was not a campus-carry university.
  • Texas’ campus carry law does not apply to rifles.
  • Texas’ campus carry law does not apply to fraternity houses.
  • The fraternity brother was arrested for firing the rifle at people, not on accident.

 

  1. Wofford writes, “Harvard researchers have found that students who keep guns are more prone to impulsive decision-making and dangerous habits, like drunk driving.”

He neglects to mention that this study looked primarily at students who keep guns illegally and, statistically speaking, looked at few if any license to carry holders.

This fact is featured prominently on the “Commons Arguments” page of SCC’s website.

 

  1. Wofford writes about the “growing paranoia” on the UT-Austin campus but fails to mention that virtually every in-state news article written about Texas’ campus carry law since September of last year has been about how fears are rapidly subsiding.

EXAMPLES:

“Campus carry unrest fades in Texas” – The Houston Chronicle – Feb. 18, 2017
“WT transitions smoothly to first semester of campus carry” – Amarillo Globe-News – Dec. 19, 2016
“No gun related incidents reported at UTEP since SB11 went into effect” – KFOX 14 – Oct. 24, 2016
“Midwestern State encouraged by early results of campus carry policy” – KAUZ – Oct. 19, 2016
“Campus carry off to quiet start” – Denton Record-Chronicle – Oct. 15, 2016
“The Beginning of Campus Carry: As a Texas student affected by the law, I never would’ve imagined how much my opinion has changed” – Study Breaks – Sept. 21, 2016

 

  1. Wofford writes that some people have concerns about what happens if an armed students hears gunshots coming from a building and “runs inside, only to confront another armed student responder.” He neglects to mention that SCC pointed out to him in six different emails (July 25, July 28, July 29, and Aug. 2. 2016, and Jan. 9 and Feb. 13, 2017) that license to carry holders are taught not to seek out a shooter or attempt to interdict a crime that does not already involve them.

 

  1. Wofford refers to a 2009 experiment that purported to demonstrate that an armed student could not stop an active shooter, as, “an experiment run by the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, police department.”In reality, the experiment was designed and hosted by the ABC television show 20/20, with the help of the Bethlehem, Pa., police department.

The experiment had numerous flaws, most notable of which are the fact that not one of the student participants was licensed to carry a handgun (only one had ever fired a handgun prior to that day) and the fact that the person portraying the gunman was a seasoned SWAT officer and instructor who not only knew he would face an armed student in each classroom but knew which student would be armed and where that student would be sitting. The fact that this “experiment” was less a recreation of an active-shooter incident than of a targeted assassination may explain why, as Wofford puts it, “[T]he armed students were consistently mowed down in seconds.” In real mass shootings, people have spent minutes hiding under desks or talking to 911 operators before finally being shot.

It should be noted that the “Common Arguments” page of SCC’s website (which one would think Wofford would have looked at during the nine months he spent researching this story) links to a lengthy deconstruction of and rebuttal to this experiment.

 

  1. Wofford points to an FBI/ALERRT study that found just five active-shooter incidents stopped by armed citizens but 21 stopped by unarmed citizens. He neglects to mention that 11 of the 21 shootings stopped by unarmed citizens took place in schools, where firearms were statutorily prohibited.

This fact was explained to Wofford in an email sent to him on Oct. 27, 2016.

Not all of Wofford’s errors suggest bias; some just suggest shoddy reporting.

  1. Wofford writes, “But in 2013, [Texas] reduced its [license to carry] training requirement from six hours to four.”

In reality, the state reduced its training requirement from ten hours, including the shooting test, to four hours, not including the shooting test, effectively cutting the total course time in half (from ten hours to approximately five hours).

 

  1. Wofford writes, “A well-known loophole allows Texas citizens to get a license after viewing a 30-minute YouTube video and parting with $19.99.”

This is not necessarily inaccurate (we can’t confirm the length of the video or the cost), but it gives the impression that Texas citizens can obtain a Texas license this way. The loophole Wofford refers to allows a citizen of any state to obtain a Virginia license.

 

  1. In attempting to suggest that campus carry immediately led to a spate of problems, Wofford writes, “That [first] week, a 21-year-old student flashed his gun in the Perry-Castaneda Library, a clear violation.”

What Wofford fails to mention is that the student flashed his gun to just one person—a reporter who asked to take a picture of it for a story on campus carry—and that other people only found out because the story appeared in The New York Times.

 

  1. In writing about the accidental or negligent discharge of a handgun in a dorm room at Tarleton State University, Wofford writes, “SCC, which had previously rebutted its opponents for failing to provide evidence of misfires, rushed a press release attributing the event to a “period of adjustment.”

In reality, SCC has always been very open about the three or four (depending on whether you count an incident involving a police cadet) previous accidental discharges at campus-carry colleges, and SCC was very open about this one.

An archive of the SCC website from Jan. 8, 2015 (five days before the Texas Legislature convened for the session in which they ultimately passed the state’s campus carry law), includes this statement:

Among the more than 150 college campuses that currently allow concealed carry, there have been three accidental/negligent discharges—two by faculty/staff and one by a student. Two of the negligent discharges were the result of the license holder carrying the gun in a pants pocket without a holster (both of these incidents resulted in non-life-threatening injuries to the license holder’s leg), and one was the result of the license holder showing a new gun—a gun with which she was not yet familiar—to her coworkers (this incident resulted in only minor abrasions that did not require medical attention). All three of these incidents could have been avoided through proper training and/or the implementation of appropriate policies (e.g., allowing colleges to require that licensed students, faculty, and staff keep handguns holstered or cased at all times) that do not restrict the ability of license holders to carry concealed handguns for personal protection.

A quick glance at CDC data from 2007 (the last year for which records are available) reveals that individuals between the ages of 21 and 24, the age group most likely to carry concealed handguns on a college campus, accounted for fewer than 70 fatal gun accidents that year, nationwide. And based on consistent trends, it’s fair to assume that most (approximately 80%) of those were either hunting accidents or incidents of someone mishandling a firearm in the home. It’s highly doubtful that even one of those incidents was related to licensed concealed carry.

From 1996-2007, the State of Texas had 1,754 convictions for ‘discharge of a firearm.’ Only three of those convictions were of license holders, and it’s not certain if any of those three convictions were related to concealed carry.

Because the trigger of a properly holstered firearm is not exposed, because modern firearms are designed not to discharge if dropped, and because an applicant for a CHL must (in most states) pass a training course covering firearm safety, accidental discharges among concealed handgun license holder are extremely rare and represent, at worst, a statistically negligible risk. SCC feels that it is wrong to deny citizens a right simply because that right is accompanied by a minor risk.

 

  1. After opening his article by declaring, “More than 200 colleges across the U.S. allow campus carry,” Wofford concludes it without ever telling the reader whether any of those colleges have reported a resulting assault, suicide attempt, or fatality.

After nine months of researching this issue, Ben Wofford knows full well that no such incidents have been reported.

Reached for comment on this inaccurate and highly misleading story, former SCC board member Scott Lewis commented, “I wish I could say I’m surprised that the article turned out to be a hatchet job, but there is a reason I recorded my end of the interview. Publications like Rolling Stone don’t sell copies by challenging their target audiences’ preconceived notions with insightful looks at complex issues; they sell copies by inflaming their audiences’ existing prejudices. Making the audience think, ‘I never thought about it that way,’ doesn’t sell ad space; making the audience think, ‘I can’t believe some people are so stupid,’ does.”

UPDATE: For the online edition of the Rolling Stone article, the author and/or editors added notes addressing points number 1, 2, and 17 from SCC’s list of errors and omissions and corrected points number 12 and 19. The other 18 points remain unaddressed.

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ABOUT STUDENTS FOR CONCEALED CARRY — Students for Concealed Carry (SCC) is a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization comprising college students, faculty, staff, and concerned citizens who believe that holders of state-issued concealed handgun licenses should be allowed the same measure of personal protection on college campuses that current laws afford them virtually everywhere else. SCC is not affiliated with the NRA or any other organization. SCC is a pioneer in the field of long-form press releases. For more information on SCC, visit ConcealedCampus.org or Facebook.com/ConcealedCampus. For more information on the debate over campus carry in Texas, visit WhyCampusCarry.com or tweet @CampusCarry.

 

RELATED:

“A Refresher on the Case for Campus Carry in Texas”: http://concealedcampus.org/2016/05/a-refresher-on-the-case-for-campus-carry-in-texas/

SCC’s Oct. 2, 2015 – Mar. 16, 2017, Texas press releases and op-eds: https://www.scribd.com/document/319141232/Texas-Students-for-Concealed-Carry-Campus-Carry-Press-Releases-Op-Eds-Oct-2-2015-March-16-2017

SCC’s 2015 Texas legislative handout (includes Dec. 9 – May 22, 2015, press releases and op-eds): https://www.scribd.com/document/255815743/SCC-s-2015-Texas-Legislative-Handout

All SCC statements regarding the campus carry policies proposed by UT-Austin: https://www.scribd.com/document/317821607/Texas-Students-for-Concealed-Carry-Press-Releases-Regarding-UT-Austin-s-Campus-Carry-Policies

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