O’Rourke calls for change during campus visit

Ron Jones, a member of the Akron-Canton Proud Boys, tends to their table that displays a collection of guns.

Wearing a gray and yellow Kent State hat, U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke addressed a crowd on Risman Plaza Wednesday evening. The presidential candidate talked on issues ranging from gun control to immigration and women’s reproductive rights. 

The congressman first tackled gun control in front of students both against and in support of his policies. Students in the crowd held signs stating “Protect people, not guns” and screamed in support of his stance on gun policies. 

“These weapons of war were designed to kill us on battlefields, but are killing us in schools, in synagogues, in Walmarts, in churches, in concerts and gatherings just like these,” O’Rourke said. “It is not enough to stop selling AR-15s and AK-47s. When there are more than 10 million of those potential instruments of terror we must mandate that every single one of them be bought back, back home, off the streets.”

Among the crowd of people were counter-protesters openly carrying Smith and Wessons, M&P 45s, glocks, AR-15s and more.

“I just wanted to come out and talk to people,” Brett Pucillo, founder and former member of Ohio Carry, said. “See if we can clear up any misconceptions and answer their questions.” 

Pucillo was with a group, who he said were a “lot of Ohio Carry members.” He had announced his intent to open carry in the days leading up to O’Rourke arriving on campus. 

“The only way you can carry on campus is open carry,” Pucillo said. “We’ve pushed for the legal concealed carrying. We’d love for that to pass on campuses. But right now this is our only way of defending ourselves.” 

Open carry activists had set up on the plaza hours before O’Rourke came on stage. The Akron Proud Boys set up a table with different types of guns locked to it for people to examine. Hanging off the table was a sign that read “Which ones should be banned?”

“We’re just out here displaying some of our toys,” Andy Walls, the vice president of the Akron Proud Boys said. “There’s been a lot of talk, from Beto mostly, about banning certain models of firearms. We want to know what people’s opinions on that are.”

All the members were openly carrying guns as well. 

“We openly carry firearms just to remind people that this is a right that we have,” Walls said. “Also, I think the best thing it does is show people that a group of people can get together and be armed and no one gets hurt.”

Mai-Lang Francis, a sophomore English major; Maddie Bailey, a sophomore speech pathology and audiology major; Carol Coolidge a sophomore digital sciences major and Linna Kettering a sophomore global studies major were all concerned about the open-carry protest.

Senior Jordan Worrell, a double major in psychology and music, said the protesters with guns on campus were in agreement with Francis, Bailey, Coolidge and Kettering.

“I would say that most of the students are pretty terrified because guns are guns, right? And guns don’t belong around students, period. It’s a learning environment and we don’t have anything to arm ourselves with except for books as our shields,” Worrell said.

In response to the planned open carry demonstrations, Black United Students put a statement out on Twitter stating that “due to the unpredictability of the open carry demonstrators, we advise all black students to avoid contact with the demonstration on Risman Plaza.”

“We always look out for the students safety,” Gabrielle Blake, a political action committee member of Black United Students (BUS), said. “We want to make sure our student population is in a safe environment.” 

Blake pointed to the students who avoided the plaza as proof that the statement made a difference. 

“They went up to the second floor of the student center to watch, instead of being down here because of BUS’ statement,” Blake said. 

Liberty Hangout, a political group on campus, was not open carrying at the event, though the group was in support of it. 

“It’s a Second Amendment right,” Michael Heil, president of Kent’s Liberty Hangout chapter said. “Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you can take other people’s rights and get rid of them.”

Before speaking to a plaza filled with people, O’Rourke met with Alan Canfora, a former Kent State student who was shot on May 4, 1970. The congressman went through a tour of the May 4 museum and memorial, then had Canfora point out where the events took place.

O’Rourke discussed with the crowd that Canfora and other student activists lead the fight in ending the Vietnam War. He called on the current students among the crowd to push for change in their lives.  

“I believe in you. I know you are going to force this to happen. Any significant change that we have ever seen in this country has been purchased with the service and the sacrifice of young people,” O’Rourke said. 

Contact Gina Butkovich at [email protected] and Amanda Levine at [email protected].