Students for a Democratic Society invited the Socialist Rifle Association president to visit campus Oct. 24 to host an event about how a person can support firearms and still be politically left leaning.
The SRA was founded in March 2018 and its purpose is to be a safe place for left-leaning people to voice their advocacy for and ownership of guns. Topics the organization covers include firearm education, training and safety. There are under 30 ratified chapters currently operating in the U.S.
SRA President Alex Tackett said she enjoyed speaking with students and thought the event was a success. Topics she talked about included the history of firearms in the U.S. and minority communities, the divide between republicans and democrats over guns and the SRA’s personal philosophy about firearms. She said she was prepared for most questions asked by students about the ethics of socialism and guns since they are commonly asked. While having spoken at other social and conference events, Tackett said this was her first time speaking for the SRA at a university.
Garron Daniels, vice president of Students for a Democratic Society, said he’s an SRA member and was the one who contacted Tackett about coming to Truman State University. Daniels said a common misconception about the SRA is that it’s a liberal revolutionary group. He said he considers it to be more democratic and progressive with ideas of denouncing capitalism for socialism. It’s typical for there to be an anti-gun identity on the left, Daniels said. Inviting the SRA to speak was a way for students to hear a perspective about guns that isn’t right-wing orientated, he said.
Tackett said her organization is more community based with a focus on reaching out to the broader public to discuss firearms, while the National Rifle Association is a high-end lobbying group that centers its attention on Congress. The two groups also vary in how they structure their organizations. Tackett said the SRA has chapters which do independent work under the SRA’s national body, but the NRA has state associations which are local levels of a national organization. The SRA likes to have activities for its members while NRA members only pay for a membership, Tackett said.
Daniels said a reason why discussing gun rights and ownership with college students is valuable is because most college students are 18 and older. Daniels said in Missouri, 18-year-olds can own rifles and a 21-year-old can legally own a handgun and conceal and carry. Students are directly affected by gun laws and ownership, so Daniels said talking about the topic can help them better understand differing views on the matter.
Chad Whittom, assistant director of public safety, said he thinks discussing a topic like guns is beneficial for students because Truman is a place centered around sharing ideas and opinions. He said gun-related discussions don’t always have to be violent or have protests because it depends on the attitude of the group giving the talk. Whittom said a different perspective on something can make for better conversation, but he and the Department of Public Safety ultimately don’t have any single opinion on the topic because they just facilitate safety for discussion events.
Society, specifically within college campuses, can have a problem with generalizing democrats and republicans as only feeling one certain way about guns, Daniels said.
“I think what a group like SRA does is kind of breach that barrier a little bit and make conservatives realize not all leftists are the same,” Daniels said. “Some of us actually do enjoy gun ownership and find importance in gun ownership.”
There is a contentious conversation about guns, especially with labelling people who like guns as Republican, Daniels said. People should be more open to the idea of gun ownership and why guns are important, Daniels said, because it allows others to learn more about how people come to the conclusion that guns are important.
For people like himself, Daniels said guns are a part of everyday living and help put food on the table, which some people from inner cities don’t understand. Guns don’t always have to be a political conversation because for some people, like law enforcement, it’s a way a life or is just a part of their job, Daniels said.
What the SRA really wants to counter is the negative aspects of gun culture, Tackett said, such as people associating guns with discriminatory behavior.
“Anyone should be able to feel comfortable walking into a shooting range, trying out a gun and talking to the staff without worrying about their personal safety because the gun store clerk might be a bigot,” Tackett said. “That’s why the SRA does things like putting a watch out for [shooting] ranges that don’t engage in this behaviour, so that we can tell our membership and the public, ‘Hey, our chapter has gone to this range and they’ve been acting really well. They’re really inclusive and open. So, if you want a place to be able to go, then maybe check out this range.’”
Although the SRA has varying degrees of leftism like socialism, Marxism, Maoism and communism, Tackett said all members agree that the best way to approach discussing firearms and gun control laws is by understanding who they affect most in society. People in office want the world to be a safer place, but not every law or bill that passes creates safety and can actually hurt a lot of vulnerable groups, Tackett said.
Daniels said the best way to approach being more comfortable with guns or trying to understand the perspective of gun owners is to ask SRA members or gun owners questions.
“Gun owners aren’t going to be mad that you’re asking about guns. They’re gonna be helpful in any way,” Daniels said. “People, especially from the SRA, are not gonna get mad if you ask some crazy question. We want to help you understand why we are so passionate about firearms in general and what that means for us.”
Getting more information on any given topic, like guns, and even having someone knowledgeable about that topic lead an informational discussion over it can help someone figure out what their stance and feelings are on the topic for themselves.
“I’ve had groups on campus approach me on a lot of different topics over the years to have me come in and speak,” Whittom said. “Not because they had an opinion one way or another, but because they didn’t feel they had enough information to form an opinion. So they said, ‘Would you come in and speak on this topic or that topic, so we can kind of gather more information.’ Depending on what your background is, where you grew up and things like that, across the country and across the world, things are different.”