Tuesday night, student congress at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill passed a controversial bill on a hastily maneuvered procedural vote only one minute and thirty seconds into debate. The bill targeted the Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club on campus, because it raises the requirement to fund ammo for the group from a simple majority to a 3/5 majority vote.
In the days leading up to the vote, there was speculation that the bill’s author, Rep. Austin Root of the third congressional student district, was possibly passing off his personal dislike for the group. Many of the other members of congress believed that he was discriminating against and singling out the Rifle and Pistol Club.
Brittany Best, the Chair of the Finance Community said, “It is my opinion that there was absolutely discrimination involved. Individuals in Student Congress have openly expressed their opinions in taking a stance against Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club by attempting to stop the funding of ammunition and create precedent prohibiting this in the future.”
As the Tar Heel Pistol and Rifle Club’s members filed into the room where congress was meeting, an email was sent through the congressional listserv with a conversation between Speaker Pro Tempore Connor Brady and Austin Root. The conversation is a heated exchange in which Rep. Root admits his is discriminating against the group. He writes, “I do not like funding ammunition.” After another exchange in the message, he goes on to write “to clarify I am ok with my student fees going to something that I don’t support, so long as I do not have control over it.” He concludes by stating that, “Since I cannot get others to strike THPRC (Tar Heel Pistol and Rifle Club) to zero (funds), I want the power to appropriate funds to THRPC taken away from me, while still, of course, still remaining on Finance (Committee) and Congress.”
Knowing that the email was circulating, Rep. Root and his colleagues acted fast. As Root’s time expired while he was introducing the bill, Pro-Tempore Brady was writing down the order of speakers, which had upwards of twenty congress members waiting to speak. The first on the list was Rep. Daniel Rojas, of the off campus housing district.
Rep. Rojas yielded about 75 to for Rep. Root to finish his introduction. Despite the numerous members of both the Rifle and Pistol Club and his fellow congress members waiting to speak, Rep. Rojas moved to close debate and vote. The motion was quickly seconded, but objections were heard from around the room. Division was called and the roll call vote commenced. Despite the numerous objections, the vote passed and the bill was agreed to without debate. Shocked and stunned, members of the Rifle and Pistol Club quickly left the room.
Members of student congress who were not allowed to speak were outraged. Chair Best was yielded the floor in which she admonished her fellow members I am totally disgusted by the body’s decision to move to previous without allowing for a fair and informative debate. As elected representatives, it is our duty to speak for our constituents and allow for their voices and opinions to be heard. Regardless of how a representative was going to vote, each of them should have stood up for the rights of their constituents and given them the opportunity to speak.”
Rep. Goel of the mid campus district stated, “Had debate been allowed, I would have listened to my constituents and their opinions, and may have reconsidered my position.”
Rep. McClelland summed up the entire process by concluding, “This is an abominable and disgusting bill meant to persecute an individual student group, and that representatives did not allow their constituents a voice is beyond contemptible.”
Grant Anastas-King, President of the Rifle and Pistol club released a statement to the Carolina Review condemning the “shady” practices of some members of congress. He wrote,
“I am incredibly disappointed in the shady actions of Student Congress. Should this bill get signed into law by the Student Body President, our club has effectively been prevented from going to the shooting range. This is a perfect illustration of what a totalitarian regime looks like. A governing body that is supposed to be representative of constituents instead broke the rules to pass a discriminatory bill. I’m sure that not every sponsor of this bill was aware of the true intentions, but they were not given a chance to be swayed through debate. Instead, in a violation of procedure, a vote on the bill without debate was pushed through despite objections from many Student Congress representatives. This bill was only passed by ONE vote, and the representatives supporting us as well as the 50+ members of my club in the room never had a chance to have their voices heard. Here at Carolina, we should be better than this.”