Two gun rights groups staged a mock mass shooting near the University of Texas Austin campus on Saturday to protest gun-free zones after a spate of deadly attacks that have rattled the U.S.
Organizers from Come And Take It Texas and DontComply.com announced on Wednesday plans to "take to the streets armed with rifles and pistols on display," followed by a mock mass shooting just feet away from the UT campus.
“We reference gun-free zones as victim zones or target-rich environments,” Murdoch Pizgatti, president of both Come and Take It Texas and the gun rights news site DontComply.com, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday. “It’s fish in a barrel for someone who wants to do harm.”
The groups met just outside of UT Austin’s campus and marched down Guadalupe Street openly carrying pistols, rifles, and other legal guns. They then held a mock mass shooting and hostage crisis to demonstrate, as Pizgatti said Wednesday, the “repercussions of an unarmed area."
Demonstrators reportedly changed the starting location of the mock shooting at the last minute to stimulate the unpredictable nature of real mass shootings.
Crisis actors played the roles of the general population and hostages, as well “criminals or bad guys who don’t follow the law and concealed license owners who are armed” with fake guns, Pizgatti said.
The gun rights activists were met by counter-protesters, many of whom poked fun at the mock shooting with fart guns and dildos.
The groups originally planned to hold the mock mass shooting on campus. But on Wednesday, UT Austin spokesman J.B. Bird said that the campus is not "open to outside groups for assembly, speech, or other activities."
Violators of the university's policy may face trespassing charges, he added.
With the university as the backdrop, the aim of the event was to demonstrate an ongoing argument in the gun rights debate that gun-free zones will lead to more deaths during a mass shooting event, Pizgatti said. He pointed to the claim that James Holmes singled out a gun-free location at the Aurora theater in Colorado in 2012 before opening fire and killing 13 — a claim that has since been debunked.
“Seconds count when police are minutes away,” he said. “Most of these shootings are over in a matter of seconds or minutes way before law enforcement can respond.”
The event underscores the next battle in Texas’ ongoing debate about how to limit weapons on public university and college campuses, if at all.
Concealed guns are currently allowed on campuses, but not inside buildings. But that will change in August 2016, the 50th anniversary of the UT sniper shooting that killed 14 people on campus, when a new Texas law goes into effect.
The law will allow public university students and faculty to carry concealed handguns on campus except in certain “gun-free zones” that may be determined by the university.
Julie Gavran, the western director of Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus and graduate student at UT Dallas, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that she was “very shocked” to learn the two groups were planning the mock shooting in light of the recent attack in San Bernardino, California.
“They’ve tried tactics like this before,” she said. “But with the increase in mass shootings and terrorism, we don’t need a reenactment of something that is happening everyday to some extent.”
Gavran pointed to several studies that show conceal-and-carry policies do not reduce violent crime. While there are cases of gun owners thwarting a mass shooting, it is doubtful that a concealed carrier can unholster a gun and quickly subdue an active shooter without being harmed, Garvan added.
Xavier Rotnofsky, UT Austin’s student body president, told BuzzFeed News that the bigger issue for some students is that it’s planned during finals.
“I, and many other students, have a final on Saturday,” he said. “It’ll be distracting that there are grown men playing with fake guns on campus. I suggest they do something better with their Saturday afternoon, like volunteer at an animal shelter or soup kitchen.”
Pizgatti said the organizations are working with the university's dean so the demonstration does not disturb any test taking.
UT Austin was the site of the 1966 mass shooting, which was one of worst mass-shootings in the U.S. Charles Whitman killed his mother and wife before going on a shooting spree on campus that left 14 people dead and dozens wounded.