Campus Carry with Antonia Okafor

In a talk sponsored by the College Republicans on May 10, gun rights and campus carry activist Antonia Okafor addressed the flaws inherent in gun control and gun-free zones, argued that guns empower law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, and answered questions from students on the gun control debate. Okafor is one of the most prominent advocates for concealed carry on campus. In 2015, as Southwest Regional Director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, she successfully advocated for the Texas campus carry law, which later passed. She is also the founder and CEO of EmPOWERed, an organization dedicated to educating women about safe gun ownership. Recently, she spoke alongside President Donald Trump at the NRA convention in Dallas.

Image Courtesy of Twitter

Image Courtesy of Twitter

While campus carry was not a central feature of Okafor’s remarks on Thursday, it has been the main focus of her pro-gun activism to date. She successfully advocated for campus carry in Texas public universities as Southwest Regional Director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus in 2015.  Texas passed its campus carry law in 2016.  Okafor argued for campus based on its effect on its effect on sexual assault and crime rates in general.   Assessed by this metric, campus carry has been successful overall.  Okafor brought up the examples of multiple students at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas who were sexually assaulted in situations where they could have defended themselves with a gun.  One, a concealed carry license holder who could not carry her gun on campus due to it being a gun free zone, was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a serial rapist.  Another was assaulted and had to take her assailant’s gun to get away.  Both of these situations could have been easily prevented if either student had been allowed to carry a gun.  But, Okafor said, campus carry affected general crime rates as well as sexual assault.  Since campus carry was implemented at the University of Kansas, there was a thirteen percent reduction in all forms of crime, adding up to around a hundred crimes per year.

In her prepared remarks, Okafor did not distinguish between students who live on-campus and off-campus.  This is an important distinction, as on-campus students face problems when it comes to gun storage that commuting students do not have.  Dormitories are a communal environment where there is more opportunity for other people to get access to a gun.  More importantly, places such as fraternities where parties spill over into people’s rooms gives a chance for guns and alcohol to mix. When asked, Okafor responded that she trusted gun owners to be responsible with storing their firearms, regardless of whether in a private home or campus housing.  Dartmouth allowed students to keep firearms in dorm rooms until the 1980s without any major issues, so perhaps the difference between students living on-campus and off-campus is not as large as it seems.

Dartmouth’s current policy is to prohibit all weapons on campus. If a student owns a firearm—or archery equipment, hunting knives, or any other weapons that may not fall into this category such as martial arts equipment—he or she must register their weapon with Dartmouth’s Safety and Security. In order to do this, members of the college must pass safety courses and abide by state and federal laws. If students fail to handle their weapons responsibly, the college reserves the right to revoke their permission to the student to register, store, or use their weapon.

The odd component of Dartmouth’s policy is that it applies to students living in campus and off campus. Even if campus carry is not a realistic decision for Dartmouth to implement because of the current politics surrounding guns on campus. perhaps the college could consider middle ground policy that would allow students living off-campus in Hanover to keep their guns in their homes. Or perhaps a policy similar to that of many states that disallows firearms within a certain radius of a school. It seems very odd that a student living miles away from campus would be unable to keep his or her gun in a private residence.  For the very reasons that Okafor explained in her talk about an individual right to self-defense, it seems unfortunate that College policy would infringe on an adult student’s Second Amendment right completely removed from a college setting.

One of the inconsistencies within Okafor’s talk and discussion was the difference between her prepared remarks and her off-the-cuff answers to questions. While her prepared rhetoric often seemed formulaic and driven by emotions, her answers to students’ questions were based on facts. Clearly, Okafor knows a great deal about the gun rights debate in general and about campus carry laws. While some may view Okafor’s ability to shift between rational interpretation and argument and pure pathos admirable, it did raise some confusion. Okafor seemed more comfortable with impromptu speaking and direct student engagement then she did during the pure lecture component of her event. The formulaic nature of her prepared response was a direct contrast to the warm, engaging, and authentic presentation of her answers to questions raised by students.

While she mentioned her self-reflective, original way of thinking during her presentation and in an introductory video shown by the College Republicans prior to the beginning of her talk, this way of thinking did not shine through in the first section of the talk. The arguments she presented for campus carry and gun rights were not unique— they carried with them a unfortunate banality that could not have been more different than the attentive and sympathetic analysis that she she used to respond to students. When students inquired about facts surrounding certain contemporary federal policies, Okafor was ready immediately with a knowledgeable answer. The few times that she paused before responding, her pause was clearly not because she did not know the issues, but because she wanted to take the time to provide the best answer possible.

All speakers and activists use different forms of rhetoric. There is not necessarily a problem with that— different tactics will convince different people from different backgrounds with different inclinations. The problem arises when a too heavy use of emotion undermines the credibility of the speaker. There were times when even those in the audience who supported what Okafor was saying were left wondering whether Okafor had the facts necessary to support her activism. Of course, as she demonstrated in the Q&A session, Okafor is highly knowledgeable about firearms and the Second Amendment. She had the facts to support her position, but she did not do a great job of delivering those facts in her prepared speech.

Okafor did defend her emotional techniques towards the close of her prepared talks. After showing sections from Route 66, a documentary TV series on polarizing political issues in the United States, she commented that she’s found that while policies should be driven by facts, the conversation can only be started with an appeal to emotion. While we all might have different opinions on policy, most people want the same thing— the freedom to protect themselves and their loved ones. It is on these grounds that Okafor ardently defends the Second Amendment. It is on these grounds that perhaps her appeal to personal narratives is, in fact, permissible.

One of the largest problems in the gun control debate is the partisan divide between the pro- and anti-gun factions.  There is a pervasive belief that the vast majority of pro-gun people are Republican while gun control supporters are Democrats, which contributes to the feeling that there is no common ground between the two sides. While Okafor did use facts to respond to this assumption, saying that 29% of the NRA are registered Democrats, her main point was that guns are a personal issue for everyone. The only thing stronger than a person’s political affiliation is a person’s emotional connection to a difficult subject. Policy is difficult. Motivation is more simple.

Okafor’s discussion with students was a productive way of addressing the gun rights debate at Dartmouth.  Frequently, any discussion about the Second Amendment devolves into both sides using extreme rhetoric, invective, and name-calling.  Although Okafor used emotional appeals to draw people into the discussion, her actual arguments were strongly based in facts, and she was an expert on events and policies in the gun rights debate.  She remained polite towards everyone at all times. Even those who remained unconvinced by Okafor’s remarks voiced that they wished that she could have stayed longer to answer more questions.  Most importantly, Okafor’s visit facilitated a respectful dialogue about the gun debate, an issue where any respect between the two sides is hard to find.

  • Texas Students for Concealed C

    Antonia Okafor did not join Students for Concealed Carry until six weeks after Texas’s campus carry bill was signed into law. Any role she played in its passage was limited to contacting state legislators to voice support for the bill, the same as was done by countless other Texans.