Editor’s note from Cam: Earlier this week my colleague Tom Knighton wrote about the Arizona state senator who thinks you should hide in your house rather than carry a gun if you’re concerned about being a victim of violent crime. Sen. Lupe Contreras uttered that inanity during a committee hearing on a pro-2A piece of legislation right after Second Amendment advocate and DC Project member Lauren Snyder gave her compelling and emotional testimony in support of the bill, and I’m very pleased that Snyder could join me on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co to share her thoughts on Contreras’ comments as well as to talk about why she decided to take a more vocal role in defending her right to keep and bear arms.
The following op-ed was written by Lauren Snyder describing her experience before that Senate committee, and it’s shared here in its entirety with her permission. I can’t thank her enough for joining me on today’s show, and for her courage and convictions in speaking out and standing up for our civil rights.
I am differently abled. I was born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder caused by a genetic mutation. My level of ability changes daily; some days I need mobility aids such as a cane or braces and sometimes I don’t. Some days I wake up feeling okay but can end up needing a wheelchair. I never know what to expect and as a result, must always be prepared for the worst. This logic also applies to self-defense.
Being an advocate for 2nd Amendment rights, I was asked if I’d be willing to speak at the Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee hearing by Cheryl Todd, the Arizona Director of the DC Project, a non-profit organization that focuses on education, preservation and advocacy of gun rights for women. There were two bills pertaining to gun rights being voted on at the hearing on March 3, 2022. One of those bills, HB 2316, would allow people who have their Concealed Weapons Permit to legally carry in public buildings and at public events. I happily offered to speak in favor of the bills.
Since this was my first time speaking in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I wanted to make sure I was prepared so I wrote statements in support of the bills. As the 2nd Vice Chair and Communications Director of the Arizona Libertarian Party, I wanted to show that I was serious, and that I was there to speak on behalf of not only myself but to also speak on issues that are relevant to the party and all gun owners in Arizona.
While I was writing my statements, I realized that HB 2316 had a much deeper meaning for me. I almost decided not to share anything personal, but after hearing testimony suggesting that victims of domestic abuse should not have to be in the presence firearms, I knew I had to tell my story. It’s always uncomfortable to discuss but I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be.
When I got to the Senate building, I realized that my written statements didn’t upload to my phone, so I had to wing it. Not much makes me nervous but feeling unprepared got to me. Speakers were limited to 1 minute 30 seconds and I was worried about running out of time, so I tried to think about what I was going to say as I slowly approached the podium to testify in favor of HB 2316. During my testimony, I told the Senators that I have had my Concealed Weapons Permit for the last decade. I disclosed that I have been a victim of sexual assault and domestic abuse. I explained that I had gotten my permit because I refuse to be a victim again.
At this point, I could feel myself unexpectedly getting choked up. I’m not really the type of person that cries often and was surprised that recounting my experiences brought on intense emotions. There’s no way to anticipate how hard it can be to talk about experiences like this, especially while standing at a podium with a microphone amplifying your shaky voice to a committee of politicians and an audience of complete strangers but I pushed myself to keep talking because awareness is key.
Anyone who has been in a similar situation knows that saying these things out loud is difficult because it makes it real. Talking about it brings up memories that have been repressed for many years as a coping mechanism. The environment made it particularly difficult — testifying at a hearing is far different from talking one-on-one with a close friend or mental health professional.
I made sure to mention that I do not carry a firearm with intent to harm others, I carry so that I will not be harmed. Relevant to the bill text, I decided to discuss an experience that I haven’t told many people about. A few years ago, I went to a public event and being a law-abiding citizen and responsible gun owner, I knew that firearms weren’t allowed at the venue so I left my pistol at home and a friend picked me up.
Later that night, I was stalked by a man from a dating app. He waited until my friend wasn’t around and tried to get me to get into his car so that he could give me a ride home. After I said, “No, thanks” multiple times, he approached me, grabbed me by my arm and began dragging me over to where his car was parked with the door open. At that moment, I realized he was attempting to abduct me. Then I remembered, I did not have my firearm or any other means of self defense. Thankfully I was able to somehow break free, but that didn’t make the feeling of helplessness any less terrifying.
Due to my physical limitations, I don’t have the privilege of running away and waiting for police to come to my aid. I have to be my own first responder but because I followed the law, I was left unable to defend myself and was at the mercy of an assailant.
As I choked my way through a very brief explanation of my attack to the Senators, I held up my cane, stressing the fact that I have to be able to defend myself. At this point, I was one minute into my allotted time. A 30-second reminder was announced but I was so focused on keeping it together that I didn’t even really hear the words. My hands had started trembling and the lump in my throat was becoming almost unbearable so I yielded the remainder of my time and made my way back to my seat, not realizing that tears had begun to well up in my eyes. Cheryl Todd and a few others were there to reassure me I had done a great job.
Some of the Committee listened intently to my story, maintaining eye contact as I looked up throughout my minute of hell. Others seemingly stopped listening upon hearing that I was speaking in favor of the bill. They appeared too busy staring at their laptops to care that I was sharing this traumatic event, re-living one of the single most horrific experiences of my life right there in front of them. I didn’t expect a prize for speaking but I did expect my elected officials to do their job and listen to the testimony being presented — or at least pretend to.
Immediately following my testimony, the Senators voted on the bill. Most commented in support, which was very encouraging and made the experience of testifying feel worthwhile. AZ District 19 State Senator Lupe Contreras (D), one of three Committee members who voted against HB 2316, asked to explain his vote.
Sen. Contreras started out by explaining that he is a gun owner, a hunter and a proud Democrat. He then stated he does not feel the need to carry a gun and that he doesn’t “walk around, run around and drive around worried about somebody’s going to shoot me, somebody’s going to hurt me, or whatever.” As if being assaulted is tantamount to “whatever”. Contreras proceeded to ask, “Why even walk around at that point? Stay at home behind closed doors.” After being told to just stay home, it became very difficult to listen to this man blatantly announce his male, ableist privilege of not having to worry about being attacked. It must be nice.
Filled with disgust from the arrogant remarks made by Senator Contreras, I knew I couldn’t say anything so I got up and made my way to the vacant seat located right in front of him. That seemed to speak volumes in itself because he immediately began to backpedal and said, “Ma’am, you can sit there and stare at me all you want, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about things in general.” Contreras then proceeded to say, “There’s a lot of things that happen in the world, but you can’t run around scared all the time.” His closing statement was, “I do understand that, yeah, it is a right that we have, but some people just don’t have that right and some people just shouldn’t have that right.”
How could he not be talking about me? He was talking about every person who carries a firearm to protect themselves, which of course, included me. This also includes marginalized groups and minorities such as those in the LGTBQ+ community, people of color and disabled people who have every right to defend themselves. This right shall not be infringed, especially when the excuse is that he does not feel worried, so no one else should.
Senator Contreras seemingly forgot about his constituents while explaining his vote. Every part of his commentary related back to himself. It seemed that he also forgot that he has taken an oath of office to defend the Constitution while acting as if his opinions render him a judge of who should and should not be allowed to have certain Constitutional rights.
There are no words to express how disappointing it was to hear those statements come from the mouth of an elected official that I just testified in front of. The amount of virtue signaling and hypocrisy from the same Arizona Senate Democrats that boast “Women’s History Month” and wishing a “Happy International Women’s Day” during the month of March is astounding. I guess it’s only happy for women who are a part of their echo chamber.
Exploiting marginalized groups to further their own agenda and conveniently ignoring them when their opinions differ is a surefire way to make your constituents lose faith. This happens on both sides of the aisle, but it’s especially egregious when it comes from people who spout things like “if it saves just one life” and pretend to care about the “greater good”. I’ll believe that when I see it.
(Disclaimer: All opinions are my own and do not reflect the Arizona Libertarian Party, the DC Project or any other organization.)