Our View is a staff editorial produced collaboratively by the entire Rocket Staff. Any views expressed in the editorial are the opinions of the entire staff.
Multiple members of the Rocket Staff attended both of the events mentioned in this editorial and discussed both with the rest of our members. Anyone who was not following the coverage provided by The Rocket can read our coverage of the event hosted by College Republicans here, and the event hosted by Young Progressives here.
On Saturday, SRU’s conservative student group the College Republicans hosted a rally in support of campus carry, advocating for legislative reform to allow students to carry handguns on college campuses for the purpose of self-defense. Club president Brian McLaughlin, a senior political science pre-law major, spoke at the event along with Slippery Rock Mayor Jondavid Longo and local State Representative Aaron Bernstine.
Kaitlin Bennett, a recent graduate from Kent State University, also spoke at Saturday’s gun rights rally. Bennett garnered attention last spring when she posed for her graduation pictures with an AR-10 rifle, tweeting out that she believed students would be safer on college campuses if they could carry firearms. She said at the rally that she considers herself to be a Second Amendment absolutist, arguing that background checks, waiting periods and licenses to carry a concealed handgun should be abolished.
Bennett is also a “reporter” for InfoWars, a media conspiracy organization that is facing multiple defamation lawsuits for reporting blatantly false information about the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. At the rally Bennett claimed that her presence at SRU was solely for the purpose of the Second Amendment rally, proceeded to interview students on campus for an InfoWars video published days later on Bennett’s Liberty Hangout Youtube channel.
It is the opinion of The Rocket that inviting a radical such as Bennett to campus showcased a disastrous lapse in judgment on behalf of the College Republicans and those associated with the rally. Saturday’s discussion was sullied by her inclusion in what should have been a productive discussion on gun rights. Bennett did nothing to further the conversation and went out of her way to belittle and demean members of the audience.
We believe SRU President Dr. William Behre was correct when he said that including Bennett in the rally would take away from any serious conversation being had, and we commend him and members of university administration for not attending the event. We appreciate the actions of Mayor Longo and McLaughlin, president of the College Republicans, for apologizing to a member of our staff after he was harassed by Bennett for taking her picture during her on-campus interviews for InfoWars.
Including a conspiracy theorist such as Bennett provided no educational or tangible value to students or the SRU community. The rally was attended by few students who were not already associated with the College Republicans. As an institution of higher education, SRU should always be a forum where students and guests can have civil discourse on important political and social issues. However, the ideology of individuals like Bennett who would use social media to attack a survivor of a school shooting should not be welcome anywhere, especially on a college campus.
The Young Progressives, SRU’s liberal student group, hosted an open forum on gun control and violence Wednesday. Their event attracted a higher number of students and allowed for a more open dialogue between moderators and attendees. If the College Republicans are committed to the idea of campus safety, they should have discussions similar to Wednesday’s open forum, and not simply rely on the shock factor of an extremist guest speaker.
It is not The Rocket’s perspective that students should refrain from engaging in candid and controversial dialogue with their peers. Students should go out of their way to talk with people that they disagree with and make their own voice heard. We need to call out oppressive rhetoric when you hear it and hold others accountable when they seek to suppress others through bigotry and hate. It’s on us as students to make sure that Bennett and other enemies of human decency don’t have a voice on our campus.