The College Republicans hosted Kaitlin Bennett, Mayor Jondavid Longo, and State Representative Aaron Bernstine at their Campus Carry Rally Saturday afternoon.
Attendance at the rally was approximately 84 people, as students, professors and members of the Slippery Rock community came together to express their questions and opinions about campus carry.
President of the College Republicans and senior political science pre-law major Brian McLaughlin said that they decided to bring Kaitlin Bennett, a 2018 Kent State University graduate who rose to fame after she posed with an AR-10 in a photo, to campus because she is a national advocate for campus carry.
Bennett said she received pushback from students on other campuses and still believes that it is important for everyone to stick together because conservatives for campus carry are a minority on college campuses.
“Even though I am not from here, I support the students’ rights to protect themselves on this campus,” Bennett said.
Bennett said that she is a Second Amendment absolutist and believes that there should be no gun laws. She believes that there should be no background checks, no waiting period and no licenses to conceal a handgun.
“If the government can have a weapons system to where they aren’t prohibited from having any type of weapons, then the citizens shouldn’t either,” Bennett said. “The Second Amendment is there for us to be able to protect ourselves against tyrannical government.”
Bennett said that she does not believe campus carry is carrying around an AR-15 rifle, but she does believe that it is the right to carry a handgun on one’s person.
Mayor Longo, a Marine Corps combat veteran, questioned the safety of potential victims in gun-free zones, using the example of Virginia Tech, which is still a gun-free campus, during his opening remarks.
“But let’s face it, we aren’t always going to have a hero with a badge and a firearm at our side ready for the moment someone takes us by surprise and starts slinging bullets at us,” Longo said.
During the question and answer session of the rally, a couple students expressed their concerns about campus carry, saying that they would not feel safe if guns were allowed on campus. Some students mentioned that they would feel less safe if a fellow student could be carrying a firearm.
“You have to look at it from an ethical standpoint,” Bennett responded. “Why is it that your fear overrides my right to self-defense?”
During the hour-long question and answer session, faculty advisor for the College Republicans Dr. Heather Frederick mentioned during the discussion that the rights in the Constitution were not absolute and have limitations. Frederick, a political science professor, teaches the limitations of the Constitution and its Amendments in her American National Government, Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, Constitutional Law and Court classes.
Frederick used an analogy in relation to the Fourth Amendment which says you have the right to be secure in person, place and effects from unlawful search and seizure. However, Frederick also said that there are limitations to this Amendment and that it is not an absolute right by stating that the police can frisk you without a warrant, they can look through your bags and search your car without a warrant.
“The Supreme Court has said that an individual right has to be balanced by the good of society,” Frederick said. “In that instance, the police can frisk you or search your bag without a warrant for their own protection.”
Frederick said that the Second Amendment is not an absolute right and that the Supreme Court said that right to bear arms is an individual right unconnected to service in a militia.
“That doesn’t mean that anyone can have any gun, anywhere they want,” Frederick said. “There can be limitations put on that. It’s up to the Courts or the government to set those limitations.”
State Representative Bernstine said that professors or those in charge of people are irresponsible if they don’t want people to be able to protect themselves.
“When people continue to take away my right to protect my family, I will do anything to stop them,” Bernstine said.
One rally attendee mentioned the Sandy Hook shooting from 2012 in relation to Infowars, in which Alex Jones conspired that the shooting was faked to confiscate firearms from Americans. The person making this claim stated that the College Republicans should not be endorsing “someone so terrible.”
“I’m proud of myself for what I do,” Bennett responded. “You call this disgusting, inhuman or disturbing, the only person who represents that is you. You took an opportunity to discuss self defense for these students and turn it into something about your feelings. And then you get up and you get your little rant going because you are so emotional you can’t even ask a question; you grab your bag to leave. That is so disgusting and disrespectful, and it shows that you’re a coward.”
Bennett also claimed that Infowars was not part of the rally and that she represented only herself at the event.
“Infowars is not a part of this, Kaitlin Bennett is a part of this,” Bennett said.
Following the rally, Bennett walked around the Quad with an Infowars microphone asking students on their thoughts on 9/11 and Representative Ilhan Omar’s recent remarks at a Council on American-Islamic Relations banquet. Bennett’s team filmed her in front of the Flight 93 memorial located between Boozel Dining Hall and Vincent Science Center.
While filming with students, passing pedestrians yelled expletives toward Bennett seven times.
SRU President William Behre didn’t attend Saturday’s rally. Following the rally, he said he didn’t support Bennett being part of a “rally,” which implied a gathering to support one cause, not necessarily discuss the issue.
“I don’t think inviting her was the best way to have a serious conversation,” Behre said. “I will gladly sit down with any student organization and have any conversation, but she’s not a student here and I don’t think she was the best choice to bring onto campus.”
Behre added that he would like to see the College Republicans and Young Progressives meet to have a meaningful discussion on campus carry, a conversation he offered to moderate.
“I think everyone wants a safe campus, but how they define a safe campus and the path you get there, differs significantly,” Behre said. “I think when we have a less nuanced discussion that comes down to, ‘This is the Second Amendment and this is what it says,’ that’s not the nuanced discussion. The nuanced discussion is ‘What does it mean for Slippery Rock to be a safe campus and what’s the best way to achieve it?’ I’d love to see those two groups sit down and have a reasonable conversation about it.”
Representative Bernstine announced at the rally that he would work on a petition with McLaughlin to distribute around campus.
“I am a big proponent and always have been of bringing people together who may view a situation differently,” Bernstine said. “I think it’s my responsibility and it’s every elected official’s responsibility to listen and understand those points. That way, I can be a better decision maker and implement what I believe as well as my constituents.”
Longo also expressed his support for cosponsoring a petition.
“That’s where we start; it’s mobilizing folks who are in favor of something like this and making sure their voices are being heard, and sometimes, you need to provide a good medium so that those voices can be heard,” Longo said. “It’s no secret I’ve been a strong of proponent of the Second Amendment since I’ve started my campaign for mayor, a lot of folks didn’t like my conservative stance. I’ll continue to champion those views and try to make sure they are advanced.”
Bernstine also announced his primary sponsorship of future legislation that would implement a two-tier system for the concealed carry of firearms in Pennsylvania. In the first tier, the legislation would eliminate the requirement of a separate license to conceal carry a firearm in Pennsylvania and would offer an optional license that would be recognized in other states. Check out theonlinerocket.com for more information on his upcoming legislation.