Bearing arms on campus

Professor Jerry Lewis, left, talks about his first hand experiences at the May 4th shooting to a group of open carry gun walkers like Jeffry Smith, right, at the May 4th memorial Saturday Sept. 24, 2016.

Angelo Angel, Lydia Taylor

Bearing Arms on Campus from on Vimeo.

A group of roughly 30 participants with firearms ranging from rifles to handguns marched on Kent State’s campus Saturday to show their support for open carrying at universities.

The group, scheduled with emeritus professor Jerry Lewis, also observed the May 4 Memorial.

Lewis, who was present during the May 4 shooting as a faculty marshall, was conflicted when the advocacy group contacted him about scheduling a tour to visit the campus.

“I’ve done the tour several times before — from political officials to Jane Fonda to activists,” Lewis said. “I just wanted to make sure that they were respectful of the locations.”

The open-carry walk convened in front of the M.A.C. Center, then made its way toward the memorial site. Lewis, leading the group, shared his experiences about the somber event.

Lewis said he stood behind Sandy Scheuer, one of four Kent State students who died in 1970, when he ducked for cover and survived the confrontation with the National Guard. 

“Just being here brings it all back,” Lewis said. “One of the things that challenged me, the fact that I survived, is to tell the story as accurately and clearly as possible.”

After Lewis told the participants his experiences, the group sat down with him at the memorial for a Q & A session. Shortly after, they continued their walk throughout campus. 

Colten Dalton, president of the student organization Young Americans for Liberty and a junior nursing major, said the walk was meant to open up a discussion on an important topic, while helping others feel more comfortable around people who open-carry.

“We’re not here to cause a scene; we’re here to educate students and show them, basically, that law-abiding gun owners are good people,” Dalton said. “We’re here to protect you, not to hurt.”

Hunter Sorm, a freshman aeronautics major, said his right to carry a gun shouldn’t be taken from him when he walks onto a campus.

“I believe open carry and concealed carry should be allowed on campus,” Sorm said. “You have the unalienable right to self-preservation and self-defense, and that right doesn’t end on campus or in any building.”

The discussion of open carry is not a new topic within Northeast Ohio. During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer, Stephen Loomis, president of Cleveland’s Police Patrolmen’s Association, requested that Ohio Gov. John Kasich suspend open carry during the convention, even though the Ohio Constitution permits open carry in public places.

While some students participated in the walk, others formed a peaceful protest around the memorial. The students held posters bearing the names of the May 4 victims. A quote —  “Flowers are better than bullets,” — from one of the victims, Allison Krause, was written on some of the posters, along with the hashtag, #notonmycampus.

“I think the both main arguments are flawed, such as how are we going to defend ourselves against bad people with guns,” said Meghan Hirsh, a translation graduate student. “Well, if no one is allowed to have guns, it is going to be more unlikely that the ‘bad guys’ don’t have guns either.”

Abbey Jones, a junior radiologic and imaging science major, said she doesn’t know where she stands on the topic of open carry. She believes, however, that there is a reason as to why the university’s policy prohibits students and faculty to open-carry on campus.

“I just think it’s ironic that one of the arguments for gun open carry is that who’s going to protect you, or how are you going to protect yourself, against bad people who have guns,” Jones said, “when as students, we aren’t even allowed to have guns on campus.”

Although the two sides at times had heated discussions about the right to open-carry firearms on campus, Eric Mansfield, executive director for university media relations, felt both groups were cordial with each other.

“Their previous walks at other state universities were peaceful, so it’s gone at about what we expected,” Mansfield said. “We’re glad that they reached out to us and worked with us so that we could accommodate their needs for the walk.”

Angelo Angel is a senior reporter, contact him at [email protected].

Lydia Taylor is an administration reporter, contact her at [email protected].