Last Mother’s Day Evan Wallesen, a UW senior and president of Students for Concealed Carry (SFCC), bought his mom a gun.
While a gun is not your average Mother’s Day gift, coming from Wallesen, it made sense.
“I’ve taken her to the range, I got her her carry permit,” said Wallesen, who also has a carry permit and carries a gun with him everywhere he goes, except the UW campus. “If I am competent enough to carry a gun everywhere else, then why not the place I spend most of my time?”
Last year, Wallesen and two other UW students, Laycee Hyde and Shannon Harris, who have since graduated, started SFCC. The club was intended to be social, a place where students could gather and, as Wallesen puts it, “go shooting and not be hated on.”
To inaugurate the club and raise awareness of its existence, the three founding members stood in Red Square wearing orange jumpsuits, holding signs that read “Criminals love gun-free zones.”
In a not-so-subtle way, they were attempting to highlight their view that banning guns puts students in greater danger, as they are not able to protect themselves.
“Right now, what is stopping a crazy person from walking on campus with a gun?” Wallesen said. “If I have my gun, I am the first line of defense. … the crazy person who wants to kill a bunch of people doesn’t care about the law. If you have decided to commit murder, you aren’t going to care about the felony you get by walking on campus with a gun.”
Despite the confrontational nature of this public display, Wallesen isn’t normally aggressive about his politics. He labels himself fiscally conservative and socially progressive. When it comes to guns, he agrees with the right-wingers: no limitations.
He is knowledgeable, excited, and surprisingly genial as he discusses gun legislation — open versus concealed carry, mental health, and politicians’ views on guns, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz alike.
He is not at all combative.
Since its formation, SFCC has quickly morphed into something even more political. Earlier this quarter, under the guidance of Rep. Elizabeth Scott, SFCC crafted House Bill 2867: “Authorizing conceal carry on campuses of institutions of higher education.”
HB 2867 wasn’t referred to committee, making it pretty much dead upon arrival, but SFCC plans to edit and evolve the bill, then submit it again during the next legislative session.
The bill would legalize concealed carry on the UW campus. Currently, firearms are completely banned from campus, despite both open carry and concealed carry being legal in most places in Washington state. Jails, schools, bars, or parts of airports are the exceptions, areas where guns are unauthorized. To legally, openly carry a weapon one does not need a permit, but to carry a concealed weapon, a concealed pistol license is required.
The bill, if passed, would mean academic institutions could not make any rule that barred license holders from carrying a firearm. It would, however, allow “provisions concerning the storage of pistols in dormitories,” and would not necessarily apply to private institutions.
A similar bill recently passed in Texas, Senate Bill 11, which beginning Aug. 1, 2016, will legalize concealed carry of firearms on campus at the University of Texas at Austin. It was, and still is, highly contentious on the UT campus.
Many Texas students continue to avidly oppose the bill.
According to the Facebook event, “Campus (DILDO) Carry,” 10,000 people will be attending a “Cocks, not Glocks,” protest taking place on the UT campus the first day of school, Aug. 24. Students and others opposed to SB 11 plan to strap massive dildos to their backpacks, with the idea that dildos are “about as effective at protecting us from sociopathic shooters, but much safer for recreational play.”
Late last month, the dean of UT’s School of Architecture resigned due to concern with the new policy.
In 2015, there were 23 shootings on college campuses across the country. The likelihood of a shooting occurring on your campus is still incredibly slim, but this uptick in campus violence has brought gunrights, accessibility to guns, and gun laws in general into the center of debates.
According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans are in favor of requiring background checks for gun shows and private sales of firearms, as well as implementing laws preventing someone with a mental illness from purchasing a gun. But when it comes to developing a federal database to track gun sales and actually banning assault-style weapons, it becomes a partisan issue.
In 2014, Pew reported that 32 percent of Americans owned a firearm for hunting, but 48 percent, the majority, owned a gun for protection. This is a 22 percent increase from 1999 when only 26 percent owned a weapon for that reason.
Wallesen says the campus carry bill isn’t motivated by fear. He isn’t scared of a shooting occurring on campus, but he knows it is an imminent threat that, as of now, he can’t do anything about.
He thinks students have a false sense of security.
“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “That’s the way I think everyone should act. … Why do you stock up on food? Why do you wear a seatbelt? I prepare for someone to attack me and I hope that no one does.”
Wallesen credits SFCC member and UW graduate student Allen Acosta with making this bill a reality.
“We push the boundaries of our liberties,” Acosta said. “It’s healthy to understand what rights we have and what rights the government has. That’s why I love this group, because they are willing to do that.”
Acosta has been networking with gun rights groups to garner support for the bill. He and Wallesen are optimistic for the bill’s future.
“We’re doing something, which is more than I thought I’d be doing when I started this club,” Wallesen said. “Allen came to the last meeting of the year and now here we are with a bill. … beyond what I thought would be possible.”
When Wallesen started the club, he intended for it to connect him with others who, like him, see guns and frequent trips to the gun-range as a hobby, not just a political issue.
“Anyone who collects anything, you are always looking for something new to add to your collection,” he said, referencing his growing collection of firearms.
Wallesen brought all six of his guns on SFCC’s quarterly trip to the West Coast Armory in Bellevue on Feb. 3, during which they exchange guns, get a little target practice in, and eat Chick-fil-A.
“Outside of the politics of it, it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
He emphasized that not everyone who attends SFCC’s trips to the gun range is a Republican.
Still, SFCC is inherently political and the members know it. They are almost entirely Republicans and many are actively involved with College Republicans, another UW student organization.
The students in SFCC are a minority on campus because of their desire to legalize concealed carry, but they are also Republicans in an area dominated by left-leaners ready to “Feel the Bern.”
Being a political minority isn’t always easy. When Wallesen and other members of SFCC proudly don their “Students for Concealed Carry” T-shirts, which list the Second Amendment in its entirety on the back, reactions from passersby are not always positive or friendly.
Wallesen has learned how to deflect some of this negativity and has realized that most people don’t actually seem to want to hear him out or learn about his position.
“They don’t want to argue with me, they just want to shame me,” he said. “This club has forced me to organize my beliefs. Before, I knew my beliefs, but I didn’t know how to articulate them well.”
Wallesen is graduating in the spring and plans to move to California to pursue a career in engineering for Disney. He realizes California is equally, sometimes even more, liberal than the Pacific Northwest, but luckily he has already developed a pretty thick skin for when it comes time to discuss politics and conflicting ideologies.
Regardless of where Wallesen is, whether he is in the political majority or minority, he won’t cease to advocate for less stringent gun laws.
“The Second Amendment shouldn’t just shut off,” he said.
Reach Development Editor Kate Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KateClarkUW