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NRA and gun safety group join fight over guns on University of Alaska campuses

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 15, 2016

JUNEAU -- A bill moving through the Legislature that would allow people to carry concealed weapons on University of Alaska campuses has drawn attention from national organizations embroiled in broader debates over gun laws.

The National Rifle Association sent a lobbyist to Juneau to press lawmakers to support the bill. On the opposing side, a gun violence prevention organization founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Everytown for Gun Safety, has launched an online advertising blitz in Alaska.

The bill, Senate Bill 174, would strip the university's authority to designate concealed gun-free zones on campuses. The legislation passed the Senate on April 7 and needs to clear one more committee before heading to the floor of the House of Representatives.

The sponsor, Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, says the bill is intended in part to allow students to defend themselves. University leaders have said the bill is flawed and asked for a series of changes, including requiring a permit for concealed handguns on campuses.

With the Legislature set to adjourn on Sunday, the clock is ticking. In recent days, a California-based lobbyist for the NRA, Brian Judy, has been ubiquitous in the hallways of the state Capitol, talking to legislators and testifying at committee hearings.

"This is what we support," Judy said in a Friday interview, speaking of the NRA. "It's the right of law-abiding adults to provide a means of self-protection."

After Kelly's bill passed a key committee Thursday, Everytown for Gun Safety reacted with a statement quoting Chelan Schreifels, mother of a 19-year-old Anchorage woman who was shot in the head by an acquaintance in October, who called the bill "completely misguided."

Schreifels was identified as a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, one of the groups under the umbrella of Bloomberg's organization.

On Friday, the organization -- which sees itself as a counter to the NRA -- upped its offensive with prominent ads decrying the bill on the Alaska Dispatch News homepage and in a full-page ad in the print newspaper. Such ad placements run at a rate of about $5,000 online and $10,000 in print.

"Forcing colleges to allow guns on campus is dangerous and costly," one ad said. The ads were paid for by Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the advocacy arm of the organization.

The ads linked to a letter that opponents of the bill could send to lawmakers.

One ad also said the bill would cost UA up to $5.3 million over five years, though that appeared to be based on an outdated fiscal analysis from the university.

In its latest analysis, the university pegged the cost at $450,000, which officials said would stem from checkpoints and secure areas for weapons-free areas in rooms where sexual assault was being investigated.

Stacey Radnor, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, said while the national organization has taken note of Kelly's bill, the state chapter of Moms Demand Action has taken the lead on it.

"Our grass-roots advocates are on the ground fighting back against gun-lobby backed legislation like (SB 174)," Radnor said in a phone interview.

Judy, who is registered as a lobbyist with the state and reported being paid at the rate of $61.54 an hour, also said he doesn't see himself as an outsider. He tracks issues in Alaska, Washington, Montana and Utah, and learned months ago that Kelly's legislation would be moving forward.

He said it was "ironic" he had been accused by opponents of Kelly's bill of being an outside influence.

"I represent tens of thousands of NRA members who are Alaskans," Judy said.

He added, referring to Everytown for Gun Safety: "That organization is Michael Bloomberg. That's a New York millionaire who's spending money in Alaska."

Bloomberg's group and the NRA have butted heads in other states, such as Maine, where lawmakers passed a broad expansion of gun rights last fall.

Kelly said Friday he wasn't surprised to hear both groups were working the issue in Alaska.

"You would expect that, I suppose, because both those groups fight on a state-by-state basis," Kelly said.

Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, who chairs the House Finance Committee, said he hoped to schedule a hearing on the bill Saturday.

Asked if he'd noticed a lobbying effort, Thompson said: "Oh, they've been all over the building."

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