UC Santa Cruz College Republicans (CR) and Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) canceled a private speaking event for the two clubs Tuesday after the event was leaked to the public through a flurry of Facebook posts.
The event would have featured Larry Pratt, executive director emeritus of the organization Gun Owners of America (GOA), giving a presentation called “Why you need a gun.” GOA, an organization similar to the National Rifle Association (NRA), lobbies against gun control legislation. The group influenced the NRA to begin opposing universal background checks in 1999, which the NRA supported until then.
“We wanted to talk about something that libertarians and College Republicans agree on, which is gun rights,” said UCSC YAL president Eva Lomazov. “So we decided to bring in a guns speaker. One of the ones we applied to was Larry Pratt, and he was the one that responded.”
While the official event was canceled, Lomazov independently organized an invitation-only, off-campus meeting for herself and her friends, many of whom happened to be members of CR and YAL. Lomazov said she began planning this meeting the same afternoon she wrote the statement announcing the official event’s cancellation, and claims SOAR had neither knowledge nor approved the gathering, as it was not an official CR or YAL event.
CR and YAL originally planned for the talk to be a major, open-to-the- public event to stimulate dialogue and debate, Lomazov said. However, UCSC’s major event policy stipulates that all major events be presented to Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR) a minimum of six weeks prior to the event, and CR and YAL confirmed Pratt’s booking only two weeks prior.
Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR) approved the event on the condition that it be kept to a mid- sized event. To maintain this status, given Larry Pratt’s controversial background, SOAR’s sponsorship of the event was contingent on the event being private, exclusively for club members and capped at 50 attendees, Lomazov said. In keeping with this agreement, CR and YAL were not permitted to publicize or discuss the event to non-members.
The insurance policy purchased to cover the event was also contingent upon the event remaining private and was not meant to account for the additional concerns that come with public events, like security and unplanned protests.
Consequently, the club’s insurance policy was rendered null and void when the event was leaked to the public, said College Republicans president Brandon Lang. Lang and Lomazov said the loss of coverage and inability to guarantee safety at the now-publicized event was the reason why Pratt’s talk was canceled.
In the official statement announcing the event’s cancellation, however, Lomazov wrote the event was canceled because the unintended publicity caused “the purpose of our event dialogue [to shift] in a way we did not anticipate.”
In addition to his advocacy for gun ownership and opposition to gun control, Pratt is known for being fired from Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential primary campaign after speaking at the “Gathering of Christian Men,” where Pratt reportedly lambasted the 14th Amendment before an audience including leaders from the Aryan Nations and the Klu Klux Klan.
Several students on social media took issue with both Pratt’s background and the timing of the event, occurring one week after the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that took the lives of 17 people.
Despite the official event falling through, CR and YAL will continue to schedule more in the future, with the hope that they will be open to the public.