To most people, the debate over guns on campus is black and white and the battle lines are clear. But not for student activists on the front lines, where nuance is welcome and stereotypes melt away.
Twenty-two-year-old Rebekah Hargrove is earning a master’s degree in Social Work at Florida State University. On top of that, she’s earning a master’s in public health at George Washington University.
It’s not a career path that screams NRA hard liner. But the mild-mannered Sarasota academic is also state director for Students for Concealed Carry. Strapping on her 9 millimeter semiautomatic Beretta has become as natural as reaching for the car keys or flipping off the lights.
“You know, after a while, the feeling does kind of fade, a little bit. It becomes an extension of yourself.”
Hargrove says she’s heard the argument that the government wants to confiscate her gun.
“I have, often, and, I mean, a meteor could come and hit the Earth as well.”
Hargrove has been a familiar face in Capitol committee rooms, where she testifies in favor of the so-called “campus carry” bill. It would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on college campuses.
Hargrove became politically active after the Strozier Library shootings. She wasn’t on campus at the time, but she says it got her thinking harder about the social justice component of her social work curriculum.
“We believe in the right to self-determination, that’s what we’re taught. And the right to self-determination also means also the right to determine what you chose to defend yourself with, or if you chose to defend yourself at all.”
Hargrove believes concealed weapon permit holders like herself are the least likely to commit a crime or mishandle a weapon. She says she proves it every time she takes her gun to church, on a dog walk or to the grocery store.
Hargrove says she sympathizes with parents who have lost children to campus gun violence. But that kind of tragedy doesn’t change her mind.
“I think that they’re perfectly fine arguments if you’re arguing based on your feelings. But that’s again, not what laws need to be based off of. And I accept their feelings, I understand their feelings and their feelings are completely justified. They’re afraid, because something bad happened to them and I get that.”
Sam Staley, director of FSU’s DeVoe L Moore Center is faculty advisor for Student’s for Concealed Carry. Staley says he doesn’t necessarily support the group’s entire agenda. But he thinks most people would be surprised by its enthusiasm and professionalism.
“So I think it’s interesting that the debate itself has spun in such a way that the perception is that people that are in favor of concealed carry are somehow backwards, uneducated, and sort of unsophisticated about the role that guns play in both society in general and personal lives.”
Not all students want guns on campus. And some came to testify at the same time as Hargrove. Kaitlyn Hamby, an FSU student from the Jacksonville, wants to make documentary films and has a passion for social justice.
Hamby lost a friend to suicide and has experienced more than one shooting incident on her high school campus. She doesn’t buy the notion that an armed civilian can thwart an attack.
“What kind of training do they go through that makes them think that they can handle that and save my life, as a person on the side? I don’t feel confident in that.”
Still, Hamby acknowledges that Hargrove is a formidable opponent and she says more students should be willing to get involved.
National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer says Hargrove is fulfilling an obligation.
“If they don’t care about preserving our rights, they won’t have a vested interest in the future, and we could lose it all. So I am delighted when young people get involved.”
Hargrove says her involvement probably won’t stop at committee hearings. After she earns a doctorate, she plans to work at the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Then, she wants to go into politics.