A handful of gun rights activists lay down on the ground and doused themselves in ketchup, pretending to fall victim to pistols made from cereal boxes as, about two blocks away, a crowd of about 100 protesters waved dildos and noisemakers in the air.
Other than that, it was just a normal Saturday on the University of Texas at Austin campus, where most students were busy studying for exams.
Gun rights activists from two sister organizations — Come and Take It Texas and Don’tComply.com — announced their intention to stage a fake mass shooting on UT’s campus earlier this week, generating significant opposition online. When hundreds of counter-protesters and members of the news media gathered at the appointed time and place, the fake shooting had already happened — two blocks away, and forty-five minutes ahead of schedule. Almost nobody was there to see it.
That was by design, according to Mark Nachreiner, one of the “fake victims.”
“You never know when a terrorist is going to strike, and it could be any place or any time,” Nachreiner said. “So it happened exactly in the right way.”
According to the activists’ own reports, corroborated by UT police officers, the shooting took place without much fanfare and without the sounds of fake shots, other than the “boom, boom” the fake shooters uttered as they pointed their cardboard guns at their fake victims. They drew chalk outlines of the victims on the ground, then left the scene as a much larger crowd of counter-protesters arrived.
The counter-protesters' use of dildos was inspired by another UT-based anti-gun campaign, #CocksNotGlocks, which went viral in October. In that case, student organizers said they plan to carry plastic sex toys to protest the absurdity of laws that allow guns on campus. The fart machines, organizers said, were also intended to highlight the absurdity of the situation.
Although he missed the fake shooting, UT alum Mat Thompson said he felt his goal, to counter-protest a “horrifically distasteful” event, was a success.
“I think everybody here is looking for common sense,” he said, dildo in hand. “We have to protest idiocy with idiocy.”
Earlier Saturday, the rifle-toting gun activists walked down the “Drag” — a section of Guadalupe Street adjacent to the university — hoping to bring attention to the dangers they believe students face in gun-free zones. When the campus-carry law that passed earlier this year takes full effect in August, licensed holders will be allowed to carry concealed weapons on public university campuses. Some areas will still be off-limits.
“Those areas might as well be marked ‘killing zones,’” said Tammy Coontz, a protester who drove three hours from Lewisville to attend.
Coontz, a mother of three, said she carries a pistol at all times to protect herself and her family, and uses a mobile app called “Gun Free Zones” to make sure any given restaurant or store is safe.
“I’m not going into any place that’s a gun-free zone — ‘come and rob us,’ period,” she said. “If they’re telling me my life isn’t worth saving, why should I give them my money?”
Coontz, whose daughter will be attending college next year, said her goal is to ensure that her daughter will be safe no matter what university she chooses to attend.
Last week, a working group appointed by UT-Austin President Greg Fenves to study campus carry implementation issued a report recommending gun bans in dorms, at sporting events, and in certain laboratories. The report stopped short of recommending a ban on handguns in classrooms.
Dawson Weehunt, a sophomore at Austin Community College, came to protest the demonstration. He said his main objection was to the gun rights activists’ tactics.
“Walking around here trying to scare everybody — that’s like, the definition of terrorism,” Weehunt said. “These are absolutely terrorists.”
For many UT students in the middle of exams, the protesters and counter-protesters posed more of a distraction than anything else. Morgan Stevens, a UT junior, was eating and studying at the Chipotle on Guadalupe when the gun-toting crowd walked by. Stevens, who said she opposes open carry, said she’d expected to see more gun rights activists.
“I’m surprised there weren’t more of them,” she said. “They don’t have finals.”