When Brenna Spencer posted her graduation photos on Twitter back in April, she posed wearing a hot pink “Women for Trump” shirt and a black handgun tucked into her skinny jeans.
“I don’t take normal graduation photos….” tweeted Spencer, a graduate of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga who now lives in Nashville.
Spencer, now 22, told PJ Media that she posted the photo “to bring awareness of how important it is to protect yourself, especially for women.”
I don’t take normal college graduation photos… pic.twitter.com/eI1NvLFYHs
— Brenna Spencer (@BrennaSpencer) April 7, 2018
While Spencer’s family is pro-gun, she didn’t always appreciate the Second Amendment. But that changed during college, when she took night classes and often walked back to her apartment alone.
“I felt like a sitting duck without any way to protect myself,” said Spencer. Only by her junior year of college was Spencer old enough — per Tennessee state law — to obtain a concealed carry permit.
“My mom and I went together to go get them. I couldn’t believe how rare it was for someone to carry a gun so I started speaking out about it in class or to friends,” Spencer told PJ Media.
So when graduation season rolled in, taking photos with her handgun was a no-brainer. So much of a no-brainer that she didn’t think very much of it, and didn’t expect any pushback or problems. Perhaps she’d get a few likes or retweets. Perhaps.
But then it went viral. Not just “viral” in some abstract way, but the tweet racked up 17,000 retweets and 114,000 likes, and more than 10,500,000 people interacted with it in some way. The tweet also showed up on nearly 20 million Twitter feeds, according to Twitter.
The blowback was swift.
According to messages obtained by PJ Media, Spencer was sent of a handful of death threats, and even dozens of menacing tweets invoking death or suicide. Some urged her to kill herself, and many more invoked violence.
“Fight me” or “I’ll fuck you up” was a common refrain. “Come to Texas so we can fight,” said another.
Not content to merely harass her, some even used Google Streetview to take photos of her family house and posted her family address to Facebook. PJ Media reviewed screenshots of those tweets and photos, and is not posting them due to privacy concerns.
“It was scary at first,” Spencer told PJ Media. “Thankfully, I had my gun, which gave me some sense of security.”
While Spencer’s been rattled, she says the harassment she faced only proved her point: that self-defense is crucial. She now uses her vast social media following to help spread that message to other young women.
And there’s a silver lining here, too.
After graduation, Spencer landed her dream job: traveling across Tennessee with a local nonprofit to educate students on the Second Amendment and concealed carry. Since then, she’s spoken at Vanderbilt University, Memphis University, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and about a dozen more.
Going forward, Spencer hopes to reach more college students.
“The average interaction time between a criminal and a victim is 90 seconds. It takes just seconds to cause serious injury or death — police can’t be everywhere so you have to take control of your own safety,” Spencer told PJ Media.
“My number one message is how important it is to be your own first line of defense against danger, specifically for women. I’ve had so many young women come up and say they have a carry permit now and it makes me so happy. My goal is to inspire as many as I can.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.