Students Say Kent State is Breaking Law to Keep Open Carry Rally off Campus
Three weeks ago, on Wednesday, August 29th, Kaitlin Bennett was sent a cease and desist to stop advertising an upcoming open carry rally at Kent State University since it was not registered through a student group. Bennett pushed forward however, saying the event has always been fully compliant with university policy, which allows guests the right to hold non-registered events on campus. Weeks ago, Liberty Hangout at Kent State requested to host an open carry rally through the university for the convenience of everyone involved in the event, since it would allow the group to maintain control over registered spaces.
This past Friday, September 14th, the club was given approval to host a “2nd amendment rally,” with the university banning firearms from their registered space. The school also charged the club more than $14,000 in security fees to host the rally (a copy of the invoice sent to the club president can be found here). Michael Heil, the President of Liberty Hangout at Kent State, fired back a list of parameters the group wants the university to meet, and says he believes they are breaking the law in order to keep the open carry rally off campus.
Last night, Michael sent the following email to Ann Myers, the Senior Assistant Director of the Kent Student Center Scheduling Office.
Upon reviewing the university’s risk management review, Liberty Hangout at Kent State cannot in good faith accept these terms. We have been attempting to plan this event for well over a month now and never in any of our meetings with the Kent State administration and campus police were we told that firearms would not be welcome at our open carry rally (the entire purpose of the event). The university has been severely unprofessional, unhelpful, and inconsistent with every step of the way.
The steep invoice of $14,310.77 is egregiously overpriced and unacceptable, and we refuse to pay this amount. There is also no reason for us to be billed for 7 hours when we would only have the space reserved for 3. According to your own hourly rates provided in the invoice, you are asking us to pay $7,520.44 for an additional 4 hours. More than half of the security cost you are asking us to pay is for the time we don’t even have booked. This is not only downright inflammatory but disrespectful that the university would demand a student organization to pay for the time they don’t have reserved.
The risk assessment team was summoned to determine security costs solely because outside protesters and student groups announced they wanted to disrupt our peaceful event. After the administration deemed their counter protest to be inconsistent with university policy, they were sent a cease and desist to refrain from advertising this unless they booked an event through a student organization. While they made no effort to do this, Liberty Hangout at Kent State did decide to host an open carry rally through the university. Yet because the university is fearful of these counter-protesters still showing up to our event, we have been unfairly burdened with the costs even though you have said they are not compliant with university policy. If anyone should bear these costs, it is the student groups saying they would counter-protest us, and whom you said are violating policy.
Furthermore, I spoke with Rick Danals on Tuesday, September 11th about reserving indoor space for our speaking event. He told me we could either book the Kiva or the Governance Chambers and went ahead and put the governance chambers on hold for us while saying he would look into seeing if the Kiva was available. The university’s statement that we would have needed to request the Kiva 4 weeks in advance is inconsistent with what he told me last week. Plus, if the university were more responsive in helping us book this event, we would have had the opportunity to discuss reserving the Kiva more than 4 weeks in advance.
Despite the fact that Rick Danals put the governance chambers on hold for our speakers, which I noted this as well in my email requesting the Kiva, your approval of our event makes no mention of the governance chambers. When I asked you on Friday if we still had it on hold, you were very unhelpful and could not give me an answer. I had also requested to reserve the ballroom, and you failed to inform me if this was possible.
Liberty Hangout at Kent State will only move forward with our reserved event under the following circumstances:
1. Security costs are reduced to $4,320, your three-hour rate for police officers, since we will have the space booked for three hours. Any more than this will not be tolerated. We feel the university included the unnecessary added costs of hall security, paramedics, bike racks, grounds, and a fire marshal as a prohibitive cost to keep us from hosting this event. This is unfair and discriminatory.
2. Firearms are permitted. The state of Ohio allows guests the right to open carry firearms on public universities. It is thereby our position that it is against the law for Kent State to prohibit guests from open carrying. It is abhorrent that the university claims they are taking precautionary measures to ensure the safety of participants due to the threat of counter-protesters, yet at the same time seeks to unlawfully leave them defenseless. As the university is surely well aware, those with bad intentions won’t be phased since criminals don’t follow laws. The only logical conclusion then is that the university wishes to leave 2nd amendment supporters vulnerable and defenseless, while trapped in a confined area with only a single point of exit. It seems as if you are inviting violence against participants rather than trying to stop it. Furthermore, in a public statement yesterday, the university claimed, “Since the event is sponsored by a student organization, all participants must adhere to policies for student activities, specifically the university policy regarding deadly weapons. This means that no one may carry guns or weapons on Risman Plaza during the event.” This statement is inconsistent with your email to me stating that firearms are prohibited not because the event is registered by a student organization, but because of your risk management review. It is also inconsistent with past registered events on campus. During the open carry rally in April, the administration registered Risman Plaza to keep control of the space, and firearms were permitted. And during Blastoff just a few weeks ago, Kaitlin Bennett and Justin Moldow open carried their handguns on Risman Plaza while tabling with Liberty Hangout at Kent State, which campus police were aware of (an officer was even stationed by our table).
3. There shall be no cap on the number of people permitted in our event. The university knew full well that more than 1,000 people have expressed interest in coming to Kent State on September 29th, as evidenced by the cease and desist sent to Kaitlin Bennett which included screenshots of her Facebook event page. Not once over the course of the last month was it communicated to myself or Kaitlin that only 200 people would be allowed on Risman Plaza. The university may not restrict the public’s first amendment right to the freedom of assembly, and the delay in communicating this to us until the last minute only further enumerates your attempt to discriminate against us.
4. Participants shall be allowed re-entry into the reserved space, and there shall be no barricades to prevent them from freely assembling. As per university policy and past discussions with the administration, we shall also reserve the right to have anyone who seeks to disrupt the event and pursue aims antithetical to the goals of the rally (peaceful dialogue) be removed from the event.
5. The event shall be called “Kent Open Carry Rally”. The university seemingly changed the name of the event to “2nd Amendment Rally” so as not to insinuate open carry at all, despite it being the whole purpose.
If these parameters cannot be met, we will pursue an interest in taking legal action against the university for abridging the first and second amendment rights of ourselves and rally goers, as well as discrimination against Liberty Hangout at Kent State on the basis of political opinion. We will also cancel our event and withdraw all participation from events on campus on September 29th in any official capacity. I cannot speak for Kaitlin about what she wishes to do that day and you will have to contact her to discuss.
While we have been patient with the administration and mindful of university policy throughout the duration of this process, Kent State University has expressed zero interest in complying with Ohio state law and university policy and letting us hold this event. I was told that I would receive confirmation about the event on Monday, but you instead waited until Friday to send me the approval and costs, leaving me with a mere two business days to come up with $14k if we decided to agree to your ludicrous terms. September 29th is just two weeks away, and still, no headway has been made. I am deeply disappointed that Kent State has been so unprofessional. As a student that has made friends and family on this campus, I am now left feeling betrayed by the place I have called home for three years.
I look forward to your speedy response and hope this event can continue as planned, with the university in full compliance with the law and their own policies.
President of Liberty Hangout at Kent State
Support Kaitlin and her #CampusCarryNow movement by ordering a t=shirt here