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By Bettina Weiss
December 11, 2015
Caption : This weekend, two very different demonstrations are being held in Texas' capitol.     

This weekend in Austin, Texas it will be difficult to avoid gun policy. Two very different events are being held to emphasize opposite points about gun use, rights, and access. The first event is “The Open Carry Walk and Crisis Performance Event” to be facilitated by gun rights groups Come and Take It Texas and on Saturday morning. The event was planned to mirror “a fake mass shooting” according to spokesman Matthew Short. Other aspects of the demonstration include fake shooters, cardboard weapons, and sounds of gunshots via a bullhorn. The second event is an Orange Walk to #EndGunViolence hosted by Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense and Everytown For Gun Sense to commemorate the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy and to honor all survivors and victims of gun violence.

Originally, the event was supposed to take place on the campus of the University of Texas Austin. The school’s campus has been a hotbed of gun policy debate since Governor Abbott signed a campus carry bill into law earlier this year. In August of 2016,  Before the law goes into effect, each university in Texas must decide how it wants to implement the law. For example, university presidents can establish rules to create limited gun-free zones. Right now, discussions about gun-free zones are being had among deciding bodies, which is why Come and Take It Texas and have focused on UT Austin.

However, after hearing of the plans, UT Austin warned the groups against hosting the event on campus grounds. “Within the university community, the campus is a place for the vigorous exchange of diverse viewpoints, which is an essential part of the educational experience,” said UT Austin spokesman J.B. Bird. “The property or buildings owned or controlled by UT Austin are not, however, open to outside groups for assembly, speech, or other activities, including theatrical performances, as are the public streets, sidewalks, and parks. Only the university itself, faculty, staff and student groups may engage in such activities on campus. This applies equally to an outside protest group, an outside theater troupe, or any outside group wishing to use the facilities or grounds of the university.”

The university says it will see failure to comply with these guidelines as criminal trespassing. In response, the founder of Come and Take It Texas and, Murdoch Pizgatti, said, “We will move forward with the event on the adjacent public land using UT as the backdrop.”

UT history professor Joan Neuberger, who helps lead Gun Free UT, an organization supported by thousands of UT students and faculty that aims to keep guns off the UT campus, told the Austin American Statesmen that putting on such an event is an act of intimidation.

“Staging a mass shooting during an anxious time for students—finals week—not only breaks rules but shows real disrespect for the feelings of students, faculty and staff who don’t want to have guns around them in the first place, but will be forced to put up with guns in public places in 2016,” Neuberger said.

Communications Director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Ladd Everitt told Generation Progress he was “very encouraged” to learn that the organizers are moving off campus. “The university community wants no part of this type of degenerate gun culture,” he said, “It shouldn’t be foisted on them against their will.”

On Sunday of the same weekend, Everytown For Gun Sense is hosting an Orange Walk to #EndGunViolence at the Texas Capitol building. Gun Free UT and Texas Gunsesnse are both supporting the event. According to a media advisory, Danielle Vabner, sister of Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner; Reverend John Elford, Pastor University United Methodist Church; Ed Scruggs, Texas Gunsense Board Member; and volunteers with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America will be present at the event.

According to Everytown, Orange Walks are “events at which moms, dads, survivors, mayors, faith leaders and other community members gather together to demonstrate our shared commitment to reducing gun violence. The walks represent the significant strides that the gun violence prevention movement has achieved, while also acknowledging the work that has yet to be done. As we walk together, we prove to the gun lobby and to elected officials that we will be loud, we will be visible and we will never stop fighting to keep our families, our communities and our country safe.”

Wearing orange to signify gun violence prevention was inspired by Nza-Ari Khepra, a high school student in Chicago who encouraged her friends to wear orange in honor of classmate Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed just one week after performing in President Obama’s second inauguration. The color has significance for hunters who wear orange to warn other hunters not to shoot. On June 2, 2015, a coalition of gun violence prevention advocates launched the Wear Orange campaign to mark the first annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Celebrities and foundations, from actress Julianne Moore to the New York Mets, showed their support by wearing orange and posting pictures on social media.

There will be nearly 100 Orange Walks across the country this weekend. Leaders and members from Gun Free UT are participating in Sunday’s Orange Walk at the state capitol. The group has been integral in advocating against the Senate Bill that will legalize campus carry in August 2016.

While Saturday’s intimidation event is meant to frighten the UT Austin community, the Orange Walk is the complete opposite. According to the Gun Free UT event announcement, “We acknowledge that one of the best ways we can honor the victims and survivors of gun violence is to keep moving forward, keep making progress, keep being visible, and never give up.” The walk begins at 3pm on the South Steps of the Texas State Capitol building.

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