The Armed With Reason Podcast - Episode 12
This week's guest is Andy Pelosi, founder of The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus
Andy Pelosi at The Cutting Room, NYC, 2019 (photo by Russ Rowland)
For our latest podcast, GVPedia founder Devin Hughes and Executive Director Caitlin Clarkson Pereira talk to Andy Pelosi. A gun control advocate for 27 years, Pelosi is the co-founder and executive director of The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus who, since 2008, has worked with colleges and universities across the country to oppose legislative policies that would force loaded guns on campuses.
You can listen to the chat via our channel on Spotify as well as watch on YouTube, or read the transcription below.
And check our Keep Guns Off Campus’ sister site, ArmedCampuses.org for more information and resources.
We hope you’ll tune in and let us know not only what you think, but what you’d like to hear more about in the future. And if you are interested in recommending a guest, or even being one yourself, please let us know!
Given the abundance of gun violence in our country, it is critical to have the ability to discuss and advocate for a safer community. This podcast is one more way for the movement to do just that.
Caitlin: Hi everyone. Thanks for joining us this week here on the Armed With Reason podcast, brought to you by GVPedia. Last week, when Devin and I were on, we mentioned that we had some great guest lined up to join us, and we are grateful to be able to bring you one of those guests today. So here with us, we have Andy Pelosi, who is the founder of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus, and he is here to speak with us about his organization and the landscape of access to firearms across college campuses in this country. Welcome, Andy. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Andy: Oh, thanks so much, Caitlin and Devin. I really appreciate the opportunity to to come on today and talk to you guys.
Caitlin: So this topic is specifically of interest to me because for over a decade I worked in higher education. Thankfully, in a state with very strong gun laws, and I have to say, I never really thought about guns on campus because I knew they just weren't allowed, right? It was a part of the student conduct and the student handbook, and it was it was clear, right? There was no gray area. It was very black and white. And so in doing a little more research into your organization, I started to think about how I might have felt living on college campuses or working on college campuses, knowing that there was legislation that supported having guns present on campus. And it definitely would have changed the feeling of security, or lack thereof I guess, if there were guns. So I really appreciate the work that you do and if you can, to start today, if you can just let us know what motivated you to kick off the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.
Andy: Again, thanks. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this issue because it's a niche issue, no doubt. I mean, it's, you know, something that not a lot of folks know about. Or people are learning about it. But just briefly, I've been a gun control advocate for almost 27 years now. I started out running a state organization, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. I was the first executive director there for several years. I left the movement briefly, came back and, you know, said I want to start my own entity. And a colleague of mine, John Johnson, who ran the old state organization called Iowans for the Prevention of Gun Violence, he and I teamed up and co-founded the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus right after the Northern Illinois University shooting, which happened on February 14th, 2008. So, what really motivated us, I think, was we were concerned -- and I know that Devin and Caitlin you probably know too about this, but I know Devin spent a lot of work on this -- we were concerned what happened in the '90s with concealed carry, how the gun lobby went across the country and really changed state laws, from states being may-issue states, they may issue a permit to carry a concealed weapon, to shall. And we thought that after the Northern Illinois University shooting and the prior one obviously, which is is extremely well known unfortunately, the Virginia Tech Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, that the gun lobby would start to say, okay, their response to these shootings needs to be arming teacher, arming faculty and arming students and others on campus because they'll be the ones that can protect campuses from incidents. And so what we thought we would do is -- and this is really a state issue, this is not a federal issue. So every state, you know, every state has the opportunity to, you know, put forth laws that would either prohibit guns on college campuses, or let the schools decide, or allow them or force the colleges that, you know to permit concealed carry on campus. We were concerned that, you know, laws would be changed. And unfortunately, we were right. And there was this movement, you know, because there was just once one state, Utah, in 2004, after a protracted battle that said, okay, the the state system had to allow concealed weapons on campus. And it was very, very broad. Guns could be carried just about everywhere, including in daycare centers and places like that. So what we did -- two guys, they didn't know who we were -- we wrote to every public college in the United States, two years and the four years. And we sent them letters, and we told them about the issue. We were concerned. We had a brief resolution. We asked them to sign it and join us in opposition to allowing guns on college campuses. So we did that for, I guess, over a year, and we ended up getting about 10% of the of the colleges to sign up and join our coalition. And I think we had schools in 43 states, 43 or 44 states that joined. And, you know, we would get sometimes we would get a response to them, you know, we support you, but, you know, we already, you know, prohibit guns on campus. So, you know, we we don't think we need to sign something like this. Anyway, we did that. And that was really kind of a stepping off point. We did not have a plan. We did not have a business model. We did not know. We were two gun control advocates that had a lot of, we were policy guys. We knew how to fight guns. You know, we knew how to fight the gun issue, all aspects of the gun issue. You know, John and I and others had worked on trying to reauthorize the assault weapons ban back in 2004, and that was kind of a that was a project signing up police chiefs, over 2000 police chiefs. So we kind of modeled this along those lines. But then we got involved in states. We worked in Missouri in 2009. We helped stop guns on campus there. We then connected with student advocates in Texas at UT Austin in 2009, helped them. They did the heavy lifting, but we helped them stop guns on campus in Texas first for several years until, unfortunately, in 2013 and then 15, you know, the legislature signed legislation allowing guns on campus. But we started working across the country. And really, our view was kind of as grassroots folks, we're coming in to help you, or we will connect with the stakeholders, whether they be students or faculty or other, you know, parents or others. You know, this is what we know. Here are the resources that we know are available. We'll help you as much as we can. And again, we've worked, you know, over the years now we've worked in, I would say, 20, 27 states, fighting guns on campus. A lot of successes. Definitely some defeats. Texas being Texas and then Georgia, you know, most notably. But this issue generally comes up in the red states for the most part. Those states that have the trifecta, legislature Republican controlled, and the governor is also a Republican. That said, we saw some victories, notably in Michigan in 2012, where the governor Schneider, who was a Republican, vetoed guns on campus. We saw in Arizona in 2011, governor Brewer, she vetoed guns on campus. And In 2016, Republican governor, Nathan Deal, he vetoed guns on campus. Of course, the next year, unfortunately, he signed, a similar bill. So all this says you can win in these states. But when we do see these bills being signed, they're signed by, you know, in red states. And the most notable one, you know, last year was -- and I think, you know, we may want to talk a little bit about, you know, last year session -- was in West Virginia where guns on campus became law, and it'll take effect later this year. So I'll stop there.
Caitlin: Yeah. I appreciate on your web page you have a really great timeline of not only just the background of your organization, but the states that you've been working in, and you started to touch on that already. But would you let us know a little bit about last legislative session. You brought up West Virginia, but talk about some of the fights that you took on; and looking forward into the future, what are some of your priorities moving into next legislative session?
Andy: Sure. Well, it wasn't a, it was a somewhat busy legislative season in 2023. There were bills introduced in states like Tennessee, Kentucky, Iowa. Obviously there was a bill in West Virginia. There was a bill in Wyoming. There was a bill in Idaho. Idaho already allows guns on campus, but it's very, it's strict in terms of where guns can be carried. For example, you can't have them in a, you know, in a location that has more than a thousand people and some other restrictions, but they want to do away with some of those restrictions. Fortunately, that bill did not pass. There was also a bill in Arizona. And again, Governor Hobbs, vetoed that legislation. We had helped stop that legislation in the prior year. So Arizona was another state. So you can see, I mean, there are bills in the, you know, on the Far West, bills in the Midwest, you know, and in those places. The Tennessee bill, of course, was part of that whole unfortunate and tragic incident, you know, after the Covenant school shooting, and there was a movement, you know, to try to pass, different types of gun, you know, strong gun legislation which ultimately failed. But a spotlight was put, I think, on Tennessee. One of those bills was to expand who could carry on a Tennessee campus. Right now on Tennessee campus only faculty can carry a firearm. And they have to register with campus law enforcement, which is unique. No other state does that where guns on campuses is allowed. But in West Virginia, we were fighting a huge uphill battle. There were, in both legislatures, there was more than a supermajority of Republicans. I believe there were only 12 Democrats between both houses in the West Virginia legislature. And you had a you know, you have a Republican governor, Jim Justice. And, we had worked with advocates in 2019, to stop guns on campus, and it was a true grassroots movement. All the colleges and universities were in opposition. The students were strong. The faculty were strong. It was hard to organize this time in 2023. And again, we just didn't have a chance, so unfortunately that bill became law. And it will take effect later this year. So again, a number of victories last year. But, you know, we hate to see any state change their laws and force the colleges to allow them on campus. Looking, you know, to this year and ahead, right now there're bills in Iowa, it's the same bill from last year. This bill is, well it does different things. It allows guns on school busses, K through 12 schools, believe it or not. And, it allows guns in parking lots on K-through-12 campuses. It also allows guns to be stored in locked vehicles on public college campuses. We call that kind of a parking lot state. There's a number of states across the country, at least ten, depending on how you count on them, and Florida is an example, where you can have your your firearm locked in a car on a college campus. Parking lots are really difficult places to defend, especially if you're an employer. So, you know, this is an issue that we pay close attention to. And Iowa bill is back. It's already passed in the House. There is a bill in Kentucky again in both houses that would force guns on campus. And in Florida, also known as the Gunshine State unfortunately, there is legislation that would allow open carry on college campus. It would also allow open carry at polling places, and also weaken extreme risk protection orders. So that bill is, from what the legislators or the leaders in the legislature are saying in the House and the Senate that the bill is dead on arrival. We hope that's true, but we're not going to take them at their word. We'll continue to organize in opposition because that bill would be extremely dangerous to public safety. I expect that there'll be other bills in other states. It's, you know, it's still early in the legislative season. You know, we've done work in Oklahoma, for example, good connections with schools there and, you know, touching base with them to make sure, you know, again, that's a parking lot state, but we're hoping that that's all, it remains a parking lot state. But I expect, Caitlyn, to see other states introduce guns on campus bills, you know, as we move forward, and what we're trying to do is just continue to build networks of stakeholders, faculty, and students, connect with them, provide resources to help them fight when these bills do come up.
Caitlin: I'm not sure if what am I about to interject with here is a question or a thought, or maybe a combination of both, but I'm thinking about you saying open carry on a college campus. And so I was in college in 2007 during Virginia Tech. And while Columbine had occurred and we knew other mass shootings had occurred, that was really the first time that I remember a large group of students thinking like, oh my gosh, this could happen to us here. And it wasn't long after that that those of us who worked in residence life -- so, responsible for housing the students on campus -- focused with public safety on active shooter drills. Some relatively basic drills, a quick video that you would watch, others really intense training, including like actually acting some scenarios out, which is traumatizing. But that's for another podcast one day. But part of the learning that happened was, like, what to keep an eye out for, right? So if you see a student walking across the quad with a gun, right, that's something that you should call campus police and say, Hey, I see this kid walking across campus. So, my brain, I think, is trying to sort of refile what my reaction would have been if that was in a state where that that's allowed, right. It wouldn't been something you'd call campus police over because it would it would have been permissible.
Andy: Right, right. You know, the Virginia Tech review panel, which came together after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, you know, they put forth a number of recommendations. And none of those recommendations included arming faculty and students. You know, just kind of to speak to what you were talking about, really recognizing signs, if someone was in trouble, you know, if you were to see, you know, something on campus to report it right away to, you know, to campus law enforcement, you know, putting resources into, for, for counseling and those types of services. You know, nothing is 100%, b but they definitely were very strong. And this was law enforcement also on this were a number of different people that were part of this commission. It was not about adding more guns. And some of the reasons why, you know, which I'm sorry, I didn't talk about this before, but just quickly if I could, some of the reasons why we don't want to have firearms on campus -- andyou know, I went to a, I was at a Fedex, and I was getting, you know, having copies made for some type of presentation. And the guy goes to me, he goes, you know, I didn't even know this was a thing because he said, you know, Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, kind of like, yeah, you would think that it shouldn't be a thing. But our concerns are really the risk factors, you know, for students especially. I mean, they are, you know, they're just they're are away from home, maybe for the first time. Many of them, they are exposed to drugs and alcohol, other stressors. When you're introducing firearms into that environment, you know, the risks are just, are multiplied and, having the firearm present, as we know, you know, if it's used, it's going to be 95%, at least, you know, data showing, successful in terms of someone dying by, you know, by gun suicide. Do we really want to have that? There's instances, you know, of course, women dying in domestic violence incidents with firearms are involved. We're increasing those risks there. We're increasing risk for accidental or unintentional shootings to occur. There's really no, in many states where guns on campus has become law, or at least in several states, I should say -- I'll restate that, in several states -- there isn't really good information and protocols put in place for storage of weapons, like, especially if they're kept in in a residence hall. So there's a whole host of issues, and also again, going back to those parking lot states, gun stored, you know, in locked cars. There's good data out there, by a couple of different gun control organizations that show how many guns are actually stolen. I believe the last data I saw was in 2020, where over 300,000 guns were recovered stolen from vehicles and traced. So, you know, that's another big issue.
So this is not something that college presidents are going to their respective legislators or legislatures and governors[saying], “Hey, listen, you know what? We can't defend our campus. We need to have our students and our faculty carrying firearms.” That just doesn't happen. This is really a coordinated effort by the gun lobby that's been going on for a number of years to push guns into as many public places as they possibly can. And we're going to continue to fight that in every state for as long as we possibly can.
Devin: Yeah. To kind of jump on that. Like, I'm kind of curious how over the decades that you've been doing this work, like even before the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, how have you seen the landscape change around this particular issue? Because I mean way back when it just wasn't a thing one would even think of. And now I know you had mentioned Oklahoma. There's almost always like a perennial bill that tends to be dead on arrival, that one day will probably rise to the top of getting guns on campus. It's actually kind of surprising given the craziness of Oklahoma. We have permitless carrying basically any other bad gun law that you can imagine. We're one of the only states with an anti extreme risk protection order by law, which it's like, let's do the exact opposite of what public health would suggest. But even in Oklahoma, it's like kind of a step too far. But it seems to be changing.
Andy: No, I don't know the, you know, I can theorize why and so I'll do my best on that front. You know, when I was working at New Yorkers Against Gun Violence -- I was there from 1999 to 2005 -- I remember hearing about Utah and the schools fighting guns on campus. And, you know, this was probably around 2002 or so. And I'll be quite honest, I didn't really pay a lot of attention to it. I mean, I was, you know, uninvolved in other things, gun-related things. And I didn't really think it was an issue. And I was, you know, kind of surprised, like, it will probably just be a one off thing, okay. It'll be Utah and that'll be that. But I really, I think again, after the Virginia Tech shooting, I really believe, and the, the National Rifle Association, you know, again, you know, Gun Owners of America and Second Amendment Foundation, those other groups, they weren't as strong back then. I think that the NRA, they didn't put this front and center on their websites back then, but they were behind it. And the front group really was Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. They were the ones that were, you know, were leading the charge. But I'm, you know, I'm pretty sure that they, had support from, you know, from their friends at the NRA. Formidable advocates, no doubt, Student for Concealed Carry on Campus. And I think again there were opportunities that were seen by the gun lobby to say, okay, let's stoke fear. Let's take advantage of what's happened at these campuses with these shootings and try to convince legislators that -- and this is not unlike and it's really kind of connected also to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Commission, or Committee, I'm not sure exactly what ALEC stands for. But ALEC has a history of pushing more kind of right wing type of legislation in different areas. One of those areas was guns on campus. They had a model bill, and that bill would get passed around to different, you'd see it, you know, the language was very similar in state to state to state. And I think that there was fertile ground in states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, Missouri, to name a few, where, you know, these bills were, you know, said, let's put these bills forward. We've got Republican control of both houses and the governor's office, and that's what they started to do. And there was success in several of those states, but there were defeats too, But I think, again it was seized upon as an opportunity, I think, not unlike what happened with concealed carry in the '90s as, okay, this is something that we can push and it's because of federalism it's a state issue. the federal government had nothing to do with this.
Devin: So to kind of go slightly to the philosophical here, in terms of myths, like one of the biggest myths that GVPedia tries to counter is the whole idea that guns keep us safer. And I'm sure you've seen this myth pop up in the guns on campus debate where the pro-gun side's like, well, this is the reason why we need more guns is the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun sort of situation. And so I'm curious how you've seen that entire mythos play out in the debate, and then have what the data actually shows when guns are allowed on campus.
Andy: Right. No. Good question. It's one of the things we've looked at over the years and, there's, a colleague of ours, colleague of many, Doctor Steven Boss in Arkansas. And you guys might know Steve. I met Steve, I don't know, about 11 years ago. Work closely, trying to help, stop guns on campus in Arkansas. But one of the things that I'd ask Steve to take a look at -- and Steve's written a book on, you know, homicide on campus and off campus -- is what what kind of crimes are actually happening on campuses compared to the, you know, what's happening off campus. And our point was that, you know, if we're looking at states where where guns are not allowed on campus we are seeing very low crime rates, alright. And we're comparing that to what's happening off campus. So the clear data, which may not be perfect but it's the data that we have, shows that, you know, for the most part campuses are pretty safe environments. Does crime occur? Do rapes occur? Sexual assault, larceny, other things, they definitely do. And maybe some things are underreported. But it is happening on a much, much, much lower rate than the off campus counterparts where guns are permitted. So that's something we like to talk about. There are some legislators that find that persuasive and others that will dismiss it. But we think it's an important, you know, piece of data. And, again, we would also argue that you're safer for the most part on a campus than you are off campus. And part of that reason is because, places where guns are not present, you know, that's why.
Caitlin: Do you believe that is the main motivating factor for having guns on campus, is the whole guns keep us safer myth? Is it more political than that? I'm sure it's a very complicated question, right? You could probably spend quite a bit of time breaking that down. But at the heart of it, do you do you think that's the motivation?
Andy: I mean, I don't want to be entirely cynical here. So I will say that there are probably, there are definitely some people that in their heart of hearts believe, yes. I mean, I'm a parent of, I have a daughter who is a junior at a public college in Virginia. And I have another daughter that's going away to school, you know, in six months. So, you know, it's something that I'm continually concerned about. So I would say there are definitely people that believe, I think, with every fiber that this is the only way that, you know, people can be safe. That said, I think there's a much larger majority that look at this as a political issue. Again, as I mentioned before, the gun lobby orchestrating, trying to change state laws across the country, under the kind of the guise of the Second Amendment, and so far there hasn't been any type of cases that have said that you have that right to carry on campus. Obviously, we're going to see, you know, we'll continue to see, I mean, lawsuits challenging that. But what we've seen so far and the history is pointed out actually, that, you know, schools have, going back into the 1800s in different states, southern states to, by the way, have prohibited firearms on their campuses, whether it be Georgia or Virginia or some of the Midwestern states. But I think, Caitlin, I think it's really still largely politically driven. Again, just like you're seeing, you know, the evisceration of permitless carry or, you know, requirements to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon; and, you know, getting rid of waiting periods in some places, things like that. I think it's just, again, an absolutist position that people should be able to carry wherever they want.
Caitlin: I was afraid you were going to say that. But I figured I'd ask.
Andy: Just my opinion.
Caitlin: No, and I would have to agree. So Andy, what can our listeners do to help your cause, to help keep guns off campus?
Andy: A great question. I think that, a few things. We have a sister website called ArmedCampuses.org, and it's a 50 state treatment of what the campus gun laws are in each state. So one thing I think, if you're a parent or guardian, and you have someone going to school soon, take a look. If you're concerned about, you know, firearms, take a look at that website and see kind of what are the laws in different states. And again, this really deals with public colleges and universities. Except for Wisconsin, private schools can protect their campuses in terms of they're not going to be, impacted by laws that are changed. Wisconsin is the only state, unfortunately, the private schools have to allow firearms to be carried in certain places on campus. So one is avail yourself of the knowledge that's out there. All the other gun control groups also, you know, kind of touch on this issue too. So I would say just, you know, educate yourself about that. That's one thing. If you care about this issue, you don't want guns on college campuses, join us, join another organization that fights this issue and other issues. I think it's it's really important because, to educate yourself of what's happening, because this is it's not only college campuses. It's, you know, K through 12, public K through 12 schools. I mean, this is a push to arm teachers and other non-law enforcement personnel in K through 12 schools, which is, you know, not unlike what's happening with the college campus issue. And that train has left the station in my mind, unfortunately. And we're seeing more guns in, you know in these educational environments. And, you know, we look at educational environments as kind of places for learning and scholarship. We don't want to have firearms introduced, you know, in those areas. We understand that there are issues happening at schools. But we also believe there's other steps that can be taken to protect schools that don't add firearms into the equation.
Caitlin: Great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to go into this topic. I know you said before at the beginning this is very niche, but it's really important because we think of our educational institutions as these places that we send our students off to, and generally places that they are safe. And unfortunately, sometimes we learn that that's not necessarily the case when tragedy strikes. But it's also really important to be informed as to what the campus policies and the laws look like when it comes to having guns on campus. Like I said before, it's really not something that I ever thought about because I just I knew guns weren't allowed. And so I knew if there was a gun that showed up anywhere, it just wasn't allowed to be there, and there was something I could do about that. And this certainly creates a lot more difficulties in those scenarios, and keeping students and faculty safe when that's not the case. So, Devin, any final thoughts or questions that you have?
Devin: Just in basically broad agreement that the guns on campus is kind of a flashpoint or microcosm of what we've seen elsewhere with permitless carry and stuff, and it's sadly extending to places of higher learning and will make people less safe. And fortunately, it's seen as such an extreme issue that even places like Oklahoma haven't quite picked it up yet. But I am reading the tea leaves myself. I sadly think that there's going to be even more states going forward trying for it. So, if my prognosis is correct, your work's going to get even harder over the coming years.
Andy: Yes, I think you're right. Devin. And, but it's, again, all we can do is, again, try to educate as many folks as possible that this is happening out there. There's great kind of stakeholders in place, you know, faculty especially, you know, that that are for the most part opposed. Students, obviously, are more transitory. But when they're there, you know, a lot of them or, you know, are fighting against this. You know, some of them want it, of course, I'm not going to say that there aren't any students want it, there are some. But there are, you know, large groups that that oppose it. So, you know, we're going to keep fighting. You know, we're optimistic because you have to be optimistic when you work on the gun issue. I think you guys know that. Otherwise, why bother? But there's, you know, we'll keep fighting. And I really appreciate the opportunity to come on today and talk with both of you about this issue. So thank you.
Devin: Thank you.
Caitlin: Of course. Keep up the great work! And we'll check in with you later and see how some of these bills are unfolding.
Andy: Sounds good.
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