Bringing Dildos to a Gun Fight

In the wake of devastating firearms violence across the country, gun reform activist and University of Texas student Ana Lopez’s message has never been more reasonable.

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In the wake of devastating firearms violence across the country, gun reform activist and University of Texas student Ana Lopez’s message has never been more reasonable.

UT student Ana Lopez is the co-founder of Cocks Not Glocks and Students Against Campus Carry (Photography by Thea Robinson, University of Texas at Austin)

Ana Lopez, a junior majoring in Plan II Honors and Health and Society on the pre-law track at the University of Texas at Austin, is using her voice to stand up for gun control reforms on her campus and throughout the state of Texas. Lopez, a self-described accidental activist, has been a prominent voice in the fight against the Texas law allowing guns at UT Austin, as well as other public universities in Texas.

Lopez’s first foray into firearms activism came as a result of becoming a co-leader of Cocks Not Glocks, the movement started by UT alumna Jessica Jin, who created the program to raise awareness about concealed carry by “fighting absurdity with absurdity”; Lopez would later further her activism by co-founding Students Against Campus Carry. I spoke to the Texas junior about her involvement with gun control reform and future plans for her activism.

Karen Guan: What initially sparked your interest in gun control advocacy?

Ana Lopez: I was raised in Austin, in a liberal family. My dad immigrated from Mexico, and my mom is from southeast Texas, but she grew up in a really liberal family. I never grew up around guns, and I’m sure my grandpa went hunting in his youth, but that was never something that permeated my life. Around when [George. W.] Bush’s war was going on, I was kind of taught that war was wrong, and  I thought that really, there was no place for guns anywhere else but in the army, and I still believe the same thing. Nobody in my family owned guns, and it was just something a little bit foreign to me. I decided to go shooting one time, and I still believe that guns have absolutely no place, especially on my college campus.

KG: So do you think that Cocks Not Glocks, the organization you’ve been involved with, has been effective in getting the message across to UT and the surrounding community?

AL: Absolutely. The organization has effectively put a spotlight on the absurdity of these guns laws: According to Texas Penal Code 3.22, it is a Class C misdemeanor to carry a sex toy in public, but as of August 1, 2016, it’s completely legal to carry a loaded weapon in a backpack in a classroom. Something that’s so unconventional and controversial allowed for the national spotlight to be put on something that’s so often overlooked. There are campus carry laws all around campuses in the U.S., and they have obviously posed problems, especially in such a red state like Texas.

Lopez has been a key voice of resistance in bringing awareness to Texas’ concealed-carry policies (Photography by Thea Robinson, University of Texas at Austin)

UT Austin is a liberal flagship university in Texas, and the state legislature clearly has it out for us. For them to target us and other Texas public universities, it seemed like an affront, to both us and our liberal safe-space culture. And yeah, I feel like without something controversial like Cocks Not Glocks, Campus Carry would have passed without any argument.

KG: How did you first get involved with Cocks Not Glocks?

AL: My freshman year, Campus Carry passed, and my professor was the one who let us know about it; she brought me to my first gun-free protest, and I was hooked. I was appalled when I found out about the Senate bill, and I noticed that not a lot of students were even aware that this had happened because this bill kind of passed during spring break, and nobody’s paying attention then. So I decided to co-found Students Against Campus Carry, and Jessica Jin, the girl who came up with the idea for Cocks Not Glocks, was moving to California, and she just wanted to pass the torch down to me.

KG: How do you think concealed carry has changed the campus climate at UT?

AL: Thankfully, at UT, the guns have to be concealed. If you see a gun, you are required to call 911. That is something that is definitely spread around to the student body, and that kind of adds an element of fear: On top of me worrying about passing my classes, keeping up my relationships and excelling in my extracurriculars, now I have to worry about keeping my eye out on who’s carrying a gun. I feel like Campus Carry has caused me to profile people a lot more. On my first day of classes, I have to look at the nearest exits in my lecture halls. I’m taking a class called Human Sexuality, and people already get riled up when we’re talking about the Bathroom Bill and, you know, sexual orientation and rape. To think that someone could be carrying a loaded gun during those lectures is very disconcerting, and it chills my free speech.

KG: Do you think the student body at UT has generally been responsive to gun control measures?

AL: Again, the worst thing about this bill is that it was passed during a time when students really wouldn’t be available to testify at the Capitol, so only twenty people came and fought against it. [The bill] passed without any struggle, and the university didn’t file any language about it. I’ve had meetings with students and the president of the university, and the measures by which they disseminated the message of guns on campus are a little bit faulty. A lot of my classmates had no idea that there were concealed handguns on campus now. People didn’t even know that open carry on non-college campuses in public in Texas was legal. There was that huge gap in awareness that we had to fill in for students because they just weren’t informed.

After we enlightened the students and educated them on what was going to happen and what was already happening, they were a lot more engaged. But at the same time, there was a kind of disenchantment because the bill had already passed. What could we do about it? We just said that the best thing we can do is to keep the conversation relevant and keep people aware, because everybody’strying to push gun culture, and we’re trying to fight it.

KG: So how have you dealt with opponents of the issue?

AL: Jessica and I have been subject to a lot of death threats. Some really horrible people in East Texas made a video depicting me getting shot in the head, and it was really bad. We get rape threats all the time; people call us sluts and whores and say that we’re uneducated and stupid. They think that we started Cocks Not Glocks because we thought dildos would be a more effective self-defense measure than guns. It’s usually just men who can’t take a joke, and the one thing that I noticed was that most of the opponents who were really, you know, crude toward us and threatened us were actually self-reported gun owners.

“…most of the opponents who were really, you know, crude toward us and threatened us were actually self-reported gun owners.” (Photography by Thea Robinson, University of Texas at Austin)

The way that we kind of dealt with it was… if I communicate, especially to those videographers, that I am afraid, then they win. It’s all just a matter of these men feeling emasculated. It’s all very petty, but the way we fight back is by keeping going.

KG: How would you respond to the argument of self-defense?

AL: Absolutely, if you feel as though you need to be carrying a weapon that could kill dozens in one second, sure. But there are also other forms of self-defense. You could carry a knife, you could carry pepper spray, you could take jujitsu classes. Not everyone has to be armed with an AK-47 to feel safe, and for the legislature to push that [guns] are the only reasonable means of self-defense is harmful, incorrect and misleading. I was featured in a video on YouTube a couple weeks ago, and someone commented, “You’re going to get raped and you’re not going to have a gun to defend yourself.” There are so many other means by which I can defend myself; it’s weird that people think guns are the only option.

KG: You are the co-founder of Students Against Campus Carry. Where do you see the organization going in the future?

AL: Honestly, it was more of a reflexive effort to educate students on the perils of Campus Carry. After Cocks Not Glocks happened, the 2016 Texas Legislative Session went into effect, and they were starting to debate this thing called “constitutional carry.” Constitutional carry allows people to carry a gun openly or concealed without a license, without training, anywhere they want. I could literally buy a gun and carry it to a hospital. But Students Against Campus Carry basically… we showed up to the Capitol and testified, and thankfully that bill didn’t pass. Now, [the organization] has kind of fallen by the wayside. If another awful, harmful gun bill makes it way into the next legislative session, we’ll mobilize. But it was more of a momentary effort to educate students.

KG: How do you think you can connect your advocacy to your future career?

AL: I was offered an internship with Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who is known to be super for gun control, and that contributed to me ultimately deciding to go pre-law. Cocks Not Glocks opened up plenty of opportunities for us as well. We were featured in the “New York Times” and “Rolling Stone,” and that really emboldened us. As a direct result of my advocacy, I was offered an internship with Congressman Lloyd Doggett, and I have since been taken onto the staff, so now I’m a paid staff member there. Hopefully my experience in the real world, fighting against awful gun laws, will help me into law school. Right now, there are a lot of options for me, but if my job does call for testifying against guns everywhere, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s all kind of open-ended, but I definitely want to go to law school and learn about the policy aspect of everything.

KG: Do you have any immediate future plans for your advocacy?

AL: I’ll still be working with Congressman Lloyd Doggett, and I would really like to take a trip to DC to see what I can do, maybe intern for a semester. Fall 2016 was pretty crazy for me, and I want to just focus on being a student now. But opportunities, like these with “Study Breaks,” keep popping up, and I like that because it reminds me of all the successes that we’ve had.

Lopez, a Plan II student, will be accepting a position with Congressman Lloyd Doggett to continue her policy work (Photography by Thea Robinson, University of Texas at Austin)

KG: Are there any other social issues you’re passionate about?

AL: I’m passionate about healthcare and education, but, honestly, gun control is the most important to me because it is an immediate public health issue. We’ve had three hundred seven shootings in the U.S. this year, and I feel like that’s something we can avoid. It’s one of the least complex issues in policymaking, but it’s taken so long to get anywhere with it. That is something I can work on myself.

KG: You said gun control is a public health issue. Could you elaborate on their relationship?

AL: There’s a lot to it—it’s very complex—but gun control is a threat to health of the populace because guns are killing machines and they worsen domestic violence situations. Honestly, they complicate everything, and at the same time, they exacerbate a lot of mental health issues. A lot of Republicans like to bring in mental health as rationales for mass shootings, but using gun control to validate people’s mental health experiences is also an issue. Two semesters ago, I met the previous surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, who said, “The proliferation of gun culture is absolutely a public health issue. Gun control is not just a policy thing, it affects every single aspect of our lives, and we need to look at it in a more holistic sense. It’s damaging to every aspect of the American dream.” I couldn’t agree more.

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