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Rebekah Hargrove, an unexpected gun advocate

The grad student was intending to become a scientist but when a shooter open fire at Strozier Library she became a pro-gun poster girl

 

Rebekah Hargrove is a 22 year old pursuing a master’s in social work at Florida State.

She was a research assistant for the FSU College of Medicine and plans to earn a doctorate in public health.

She works as a safety instructor for the American Red Cross.

She fosters homeless kittens.

The Connecticut native who has spent most of her life in Sarasota never touched a gun until she was 19.

Yet she was the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in September when FSU tried to prohibit football fans from keeping their guns in a locked car during games. And she has become the face of the fight to allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring their guns to class.

“We’re not talking about arming the student populace,” said Hargrove, director of the Florida Students for Concealed Carry. “We’re just saying that a small amount of individuals who can conceal-carry anywhere else in town anyways should be allowed to do so on campus.”

Origins of an advocate

Her gun advocacy is rooted in upbringing, education and profession.

“The Code of Ethics from the National Association of Social Workers specifically says that ‘social workers believe in the right to self-determination,’ ” said Hargrove. “Because of that right, in my opinion, people can choose how they defend themselves or if they want to use a weapon to defend themselves.”

In May, when Florida Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla tabled the concealed-carry proposal, Hargrove told the Miami lawmaker she would be contacting his campaign donors to tell them that although he says he supports the Second Amendment, when push came to shove de la Portilla folded and effectively killed the bill strengthening Second Amendment rights.

Voters need to know when a lawmaker says one thing on the campaign trail and then something different when making laws in Tallahassee, Hargrove said.

“I never thought I would be in the realm of politics," said Hargrove, who has been married for two years. "I thought I would just be a scientist.”.

Hargrove’s family moved from Connecticut to Sarasota when she was three. Her father fled Cuba in 1960 as a 14-year-old and instilled in her a sense of awe about America’s constitutional freedoms and an understanding that one’s world can suddenly be turned upside down. When he signed up for concealed carry permit classes, she took the course with him — firing a gun for the first time three years ago.

Sitting at a Starbucks on a weekday afternoon, Hargrove carried a holstered Beretta Nano beneath a loose fitting shirt. She is unapologetic when asked why she needs to bring a gun to a coffee shop.

“If someone came in that door right now and started shooting at me,” she said, “you would be really happy that I had one.”

After a shooter injured three last November at FSU's Strozier Library, Hargrove was spurred into action. The attack occurred the week one of her classes was studying public policy windows — the idea that events can open opportunities to change policy when they focus the public’s attention on an issue.

“So with that in mind I said, ‘you know, I need to do something,’” she said. “I feel like it’s my obligation because this isn’t right. This shouldn’t be happening.”

So Hargrove started a group called the Carry on Campus Movement. It caught the attention of the national group Students for Concealed Carry, which recruited Hargrove. During the legislative session, she became president of the FSU chapter (which the university has yet to recognize as a campus organization) and then was promoted to the state’s director position.

A close-knit community

Students for Concealed Carry formed after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that left 32 people dead. Its website claims 43,000 members at 350 universities and colleges across the country. Seven of the eight states allowing concealed-carry on campus changed their laws to do so after the Virginia Tech shooting. SCC was active in the 15 legislatures that considered concealed-carry bills this year.

The only victory came in Texas.

It is unclear whether the momentum for change is coming from students or elsewhere. SCC is connected to the Leadership Institute, a Beltway-based group started in 1979 by Republican operative Morton C. Blackwell. The institute recruits and supports college conservatives. According to “The Trace,” a website documenting gun violence, the group, through a Campus Leadership Program, provides direct support to more than 70 SCC chapters and hires field representatives to train students and to form other chapters.

Robert Eagar is the Southeast Regional Director for SCC, which includes Florida. Eagar formed a chapter at Georgia Tech in 2012 when he was a student and continues his advocacy after graduation.

Hargrove deflected questions about the Leadership Institute and outside groups supporting Florida SCC, saying the gun rights community is close-knit, with state and national organizations sharing the same goals, working closely together and talking with each other frequently.

Attending committee hearings this spring for the campus-carry bill, Hargrove met Marion Hammer, former National Rifle Association president and the state's preeminent gun lobbyist. Under her watchful eye, the Florida Legislature has approved 31 bills loosening gun restrictions over the last 15 years.

“Marion is a great mentor, a great woman to look up to,” said Hargrove. “I know her well, and I think she is an amazing woman.”

The legislative battle ahead

Rep. Greg Steube filed HB 4001, a campus-carry proposal for the 2016 session. Tallahassee Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle-Vasilinda is a cosponsor.

“Do Americans really only want law enforcement and military to have guns?” asked Rehwinkle-Vasilinda. The term-limited lawmaker says as an undergraduate she brandished a handgun to fend off a rapist.

FSU President John Thrasher opposed the 2015 proposal. He has changed his position three times on the issue in the past five years; supporting it as a Senate candidate in 2010, opposing it as Senate Rules Chair in 2011, supporting it as a candidate in 2014 and then opposing it after being named FSU president later that year. When asked for a comment, his spokesperson deferred to the Board of Governors, which oversees state universities.

“The State University System and state universities are united in the belief that Florida should maintain the long-standing authority that enables state universities to prohibit firearms on their campuses,” said Brittany Davis, spokesperson for the BOG.

Hargrove promises a grass-roots effort of email, phone calls and testifying before committees to overcome the opposition. Truth, she said, is a powerful weapon.

“You look at all these campuses that allow campus-carry and none of the students, faculty, staff that are carrying on campus cause problems. None of them,” she said. “There hasn’t been a single incident (involving a concealed carrier).”

She explained that concealed-carry permit holders are responsible citizens who must take a mandatory course to get a license in the first place. When other graduate students have called her stupid and an idiot for supporting campus-carry, Hargrove said she has never had the urge to shoot them for exercising their First Amendment rights.

“We’re the same people on campus and off campus," she said. "We don’t suddenly change into crazy psycho people when we go on campus . . . we just want our right to protect ourselves.”

Source: http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/politics/2015/10/10/rebekah-hargrove-unexpected-gun-advocate/73668620/

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