Words by Samantha Ickes
Photos by Eslah Attar
Illustration by Mahlon Rhodes
Concealed carry laws currently prohibits weapons on campus, but new legislation is on the way.
A small group of protestors stand within the four pillars of the memorial that marks the location where more than 46 years earlier, National Guardsmen shot Allison Krause in the left side of her chest, killing her.
Goldenrod flowers decorate the pavement between the pillars with specks of yellow at the feet of the protestors. They hold signs written on white poster board in black and red marker: “What if you knew her? And found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know;” “Peace > Dogma;” “If your bullets are made for people, they don’t belong at school.”
As a group of 20 men and women walk past this memorial, bearing rifles across their chests and boldly displaying the handguns strapped on their hips, the protesters begin to chant: “Flowers are better than bullets. Flowers are better than bullets. Not on my campus. Not on my campus.”
The protesters reflect the words Krause said more than 45 years earlier. “Flowers are better than bullets,” Krause had said as she placed a flower on a National Guardsmen rifle. A poem was written in memorial of Krause titled “Flowers and Bullets” by Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in December 1970.
One of the men openly carrying a gun looks behind his shoulder at the protesters as he walks past.
“Flowers and bullets can coexist,” he says.
He continues through the parking lot behind Taylor Hall to the May 4 Memorial.
A line of pro-gun supporters shuffle into the memorial and sit on the granite benches in front of Taylor Hall. Guns are propped between their knees as they listen to emeritus professor Jerry Lewis recount the events of May 4. Lewis witnessed the events firsthand when he worked as a faculty marshall on campus.
The open-carry demonstration began Sept. 24, and the event, organized by pro-gun activist Jeffry Smith, sparked controversy among students. Smith led the group around campus, sporting a straw hat and pink shirt with a Tavor long rifle hanging across his chest and two Glocks strapped in a black belt around his waist. The university sent out an email informing students, faculty and staff about the open-carry demonstration at 10 a.m. the day before the event.
The hashtag #NoGunsAtKentState emerges for the second time on Twitter following the email. The hashtag first began in March when Austin Bashore, a student studying teaching English as a second language, tweets using the hashtag, “We’ve already had a bad history of guns on campus. Let’s not repeat it.”
According to the Ohio Attorney General Concealed Carry Laws Manual, Ohio’s gun laws currently allow individuals to openly carry firearms. The manual also warns gun owners to “use caution” when openly carrying. Smith and the pro-gun advocates exercised their right to carry as they walked down the Esplanade through the center of campus.
Kent State’s policy previously conflicted with Ohio’s concealed carry laws because the policy prohibited concealed weapons on campus and in parking lots—meaning an individual with a CCW permit would be violating the law if he or she concealed a weapon in his or her car.
After the open-carry demonstration, the Kent State Board of Trustees met Sept. 30 to discuss and change the university’s deadly weapon policy because of the confliction with Ohio state law.
“What that basically states is that deadly weapons are prohibited on campus unless otherwise permitted by Ohio law,” says Kent State Police Chief Dean Tondiglia. “We wanted to make the language a little cleaner so we could really specify the prohibitions, which were defined as within our facilities and outside.”
Tondiglia says deadly weapons are prohibited in all buildings on campus, but individuals can openly carry weapons on the grounds because it is a public university.
However, citizens may soon be able to exercise concealed carry on campus grounds. House Bill 48 was introduced in February 2015. This bill would amend the concealed carry laws to allow those with permits to carry in vulnerable areas including day-care facilities, police stations, public areas of airports and higher education institutions.
The house passed the law in November 2015, and the law is currently under revision in the Senate. It was referred to committee in December 2015. As of right now, no progress has been made on the law since.
Representative Ron Maag, who sponsored the bill, says if the new law passes it would leave it up to the college or university to decide if individuals can carry concealed on campus rather than the current “blanket ban on all campuses.”
If the law were to pass, Tondiglia said it would be up to the Board of Trustees to determine if the policy would be revised to allow concealed carry. If the Board does not address the new law, the current policy would remain in effect. University policies do not automatically change if House Bill 48 passes. The campus would need to actively work to change its policy.
At the April 27 Undergraduate Student Government meeting, USG passed a resolution against House Bill 48. USG conducted a Twitter poll, which resulted in a slight lean toward keeping concealed carry off campus. The student-run organization believes the opinion of the students and the USG resolution will help influence the decision if concealed carry would be permitted on campus grounds.
Though students who support concealed carry believe lifting the ban would give them the opportunity to protect themselves when faced with immediate danger, Bashore counters this by saying people don’t carry around fire extinguishers waiting for fires to happen.
“Colleges are a place of intellectualism and growth for people—not savagery and bloodshed,” he says.
Though students such as Bashore are concerned about the ramifications allowing weapons on campus could have, Smith says none of the voiced concerns have happened on campuses where concealed carry is legal. He cites the University of Texas as an example.
“Look at the evidence of where this is legal in other states,” he says. “I’m not dismissing their concerns, but what I’m saying is it doesn’t come to fruition.”
The University of Texas hasn’t had a mass shooting since 1966 when student Charles Joseph Whitman killed 14 people and injured at least 30 at UT Austin. However, the legalization of concealed carry on campuses is still new. The law went into effect in August, according to Armedcampuses.org.
Sophia Witt, a senior studying communication studies, received her concealed carry permit a week after an incident encounter with a man outside her Province apartment in 2015.
The air is chilly as Witt gets out of her car to take the short walk to her apartment door. It is already pitch-black out at 9 p.m. as winter approaches rapidly. Witt freezes as she notices a tall man in a black trench coat waiting outside of the apartment complex. His pants are unzipped, exposing himself, and he begins to talk to her, inviting her toward him.
In this moment, Witt fears for her life. She knows there is no way she can take on this full-grown man who easily reaches over 6 feet when she herself only weighs 120 pounds at 5-feet-4 inches. She drops the books she’s carrying and makes a run for it. She slams the door behind her, closing the distance between herself and the man. Her heart races as she calls the police to report the incident.
“The one thing I was thinking was why don’t I have something to protect myself, and, in this particular incident, it wasn’t a matter of pepper spray or a handheld taser,” Witt says. “Those are not always the best options. Your life flashes by in a matter of seconds, and you have seconds to respond.”
Witt applies to get her concealed carry license immediately after the incident, but the process is much more in-depth than she imagines. After a 12-hour class and a cleared extensive background check, Witt receives her concealed carry permit in a much shorter time than it would typically take.
Though the process of getting a license can take more than a month, Witt obtains hers after a week due to a cancellation at the sheriff’s department. When Witt hears about the cancellation she immediately jumps at the chance. Otherwise, she may have waited up to three months to receive her license because of the waitlist to see the sheriff.
Witt’s experience outside of her apartment emotionally scarred her, and today she considers her gun, a Taurus M380 revolver, her “most sacred mechanism of defense.” Though she recognizes many people don’t agree with her, Witt says she would prefer to be allowed to carry on campus. If Witt ever found herself in a similar situation, she hopes she would have her gun with her for protection.
“You can protest. You can form your opinions, but the overall say is within the state and the federal government,” Witt says. “It’s the law. I’m not going to say that I like it or I don’t like it because, truthfully, I don’t have a say in it. As a gun owner and a CCW carrier, I have to follow the rules just like every other citizen.”
Buildings throughout campus display “No Guns” signs on entrances, which Witt believes only prevents law-abiding citizens from bringing guns into campus buildings. In the case of a mass shooting, an individual who wishes to cause harm to others would not pay attention to the signs prohibiting guns or even consider the legality of the situation. The signs only prevent responsible citizens from having the opportunity to protect themselves.
“Guns really aren’t to kill the person, but to disable them from harming you,” Witt says. “You don’t shoot with the intent to kill someone. You shoot with the intent to defend. If it’s a matter of your life and someone that’s violently trying to kill you, I’m going to choose my life every time.”
Smith’s views are similar to that of Witt. He organized the open-carry demonstration after touring the campus two years prior. Smith knew of Kent State’s history regarding May 4 and wanted to know more information about the events surrounding it.
Smith argues concealed carry shouldn’t be treated any differently on public college and university campuses than it is in any other public space. He suggests individuals and students who have their concealed carry licenses are law-abiding citizens who should be allowed to exercise their Second Amendment right regardless of location.
“It boils down, in my mind, to essentially not treating students differently because they cross the property boundary,” Smith says. “Both [the students] and anyone else who has a concealed carry license is not a different person just because they’ve crossed the property boundary from public space to the university property.”
Elizabeth Schmidt, a junior studying international relations and vice president of Students Against Sexual Assault, passes out tiny purple flowers and yellow goldenrods to the pro-gun activists who toured the campus during the education walk.
As the activists walk through the marked spaces in the parking lot behind Taylor Hall, Schmidt stands calmly at the side of the group.
“I think it’s disrespectful to the students who died here,” Schmidt says. “[May 4] is a part of our campus’ identity, and I think following that event Kent State definitely committed to maintaining open, peaceful dialogue about difficult and serious and painful issues. I think that’s what a university needs to be and bringing weapons on a campus quells that ability.”
She doesn’t try to start an argument with the activists. She doesn’t ask questions or voice her disapproval for the guns they bear across their chests and on their hips. She says hello as they walk past and offers them a flower as they leave the memorial. She smiles as she pulls a goldenrod out of a white plastic bag.
“I really feel that if we’re really going to remember the students who died here, if we’re really going to take meaning from what happened here in 1970, then the one thing we need to remember is that when you bring a weapon into a conflict, you completely eliminate the possibility of genuine and peaceful dialogue,” Schmidt says. “Now you’ve brought in a threat, and a threat is essentially violence. It’s just violence that hasn’t been used yet.”