Kaitlin Bennett: Kent State is Lying About My Open Carry Rally to Shut Me Down

On Wednesday, August 29th, Kaitlin Bennett was sent a letter from Kent State University, asking her to cease and desist from advertising for her upcoming open carry rally on September 29th. Liberty Hangout obtained Ms. Bennett’s response to the university. Bennett told Liberty Hangout “Kent State is lying about my open carry rally to shut me down.” You can read her letter below.

August 31, 2018

Willis Walker
RE: Correspondence From Kent State University, Office of General Counsel Regarding Sept. 29

Dear Attorney Walker,

I took your suggestion to consult with legal counsel and enclosed please find my response to your letter demanding that I cease and desist that you sent to me on Wednesday, August 29th, 2018.  Until recently (both as a student and after my graduation), the Kent State Administration had been helpful and supportive of our First Amendment Rights of free speech and being able to schedule events regarding our support for the Second Amendment.  However in the past few weeks, both you and other members of the administration have been both unprofessional and inconsistent with Kent State’s statement that it “upholds the right to free speech and values respectful dialogue from all points of view.”  My scheduled rally has and still is compliant with the University’s Policy Register; given alternative options in the Policy, past rallies that I have organized and participated in, and previous communications with other members of the University’s administration.  Therefore, it is my position that my scheduled rally shall continue as planned.

Last April, I organized an open carry rally at Kent State University with gun rights enthusiast Jeffry Smith.  The event was not sponsored by any student organization, nor was the open carry rally Jeffry organized two years prior in September of 2016. In the weeks leading up to the open carry rally in April, the University coordinated multiple meetings with me to confirm the operations of the event.  In a meeting on April 18th, 2018, Kent State Dean of Students, Dr. Lamar Hylton, encouraged me not to organize the rally through Liberty Hangout at Kent State, a student organization I was president of, and indicated the rally should be handled as an outside group that will be coming to campus.  This was confirmed in the Flashline Announcement on April 26th, 2018, where the University stated, “An outside organization, unaffiliated with Kent State University, plans to hold an open carry walk at the University’s Kent Campus on Friday, April 27 … University security personnel will monitor the walk, which is expected to begin on Risman Plaza.”

The email continued, “Kent State has a long history of allowing peaceful dialogue of all points of view.  As a state university, groups or individuals have a right to come onto campus in our public spaces. As part of our core values, we aspire for all members of the Kent State community to uphold the commitment to freedom of expression and free exchange of ideas with respect, kindness and purpose in all we do.”  The April rally proceed without sponsorship, and we were also permitted to invite guest speakers. Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, was invited to speak about the 2nd Amendment.

When I issued the announcement for the rally, I followed the same procedure for the rally organized by Jeffry Smith and I in April.  My announcement was issued after Michael Heil, the current President of Liberty Hangout at Kent State, requested and received confirmation that he reserved Risman Plaza on Saturday, September 29th.  As I had done in April, Michael Heil then met with Ms. Goldring, part of the University’s Administration, to tell her he would be “tabling” on Risman Plaza that day with an open mic to the public to talk about gun rights.  He informed her that he would permit myself and rally goers to share Risman Plaza and use his microphone, and Ms. Goldring gave Michael approval for this.

Subsequently on August 26th, I was informed of a counter-protest that had labeled the event as a white supremacist rally.  Monday, August 27th I met with Kent State University Police Lieutenant, Rick O’Neill, to discuss university policies and the counter protest, but he was unable to answer questions regarding the policies.  I also spoke with Dr. Lamar Hylton on the phone that same day to discuss the open carry rally, where I expressed my desire to schedule a meeting with him, and he agreed to meet.  I then visited Dr. Lamar Hylton’s office to schedule a meeting, where his secretary, Denise Evans, refused to schedule an appointment.  Mrs. Evans was incredibly rude and condescending to me, and her refusal to schedule an appointment hindered my ability to work with the University’s administration.  I called Dr. Hylton on Tuesday, August 28th where I left a voice message asking to schedule a meeting.  I called him again on Wednesday, August 29th, however I have yet to hear back from him or his office.  Later on Wednesday, you sent me a letter ordering me to “cease and desist,” claiming I have not complied with University Policies.

First, I have attempted to resolve any misunderstandings that the University’s Administration has regarding our event.  However, Dr. Hylton’s office and yourself have been extremely unprofessional and unhelpful in resolving any issues.  Second, and most importantly, my rally has and still is in compliance with The University Policy Register under Policy 4-03.1 (D)(2). Policy 4-03.1 (D)(2) states:

“Non-registration. The university permits demonstrations, marches and non-university affiliated speakers without prior registration provided that no sound amplification equipment is utilized and members of the university community not participating in the demonstration may proceed with their normal activities.

(a)    Areas recommended for demonstrations, marches and non-university affiliated speakers when not previously scheduled include:

i                      On the Kent student center plaza;

ii                    In front (south side) of the memorial athletic and convocation center;

iii                  On the front campus lawn;

iv                  On the commons; and

v                    On Manchester field.

(b)   Use of space. Use of these spaces shall be limited to one hour blocks of time. Should another event or speaker not assume use of the space at the beginning of the next block, the previous user may continue for a subsequent time block. Time blocks begin with the beginning of the hour.

(c)    Time. The director of the office of campus life, in consultation with the police and appropriate building curator, may develop operational procedures to guide the determination of the subsequent events or speakers. In the absence of specific procedures, those wishing to assume use of the space at the beginning of the next time block should clearly state their intention prior to the start of that time. If questions arise as to the next event or speaker, the parties should first attempt to arrive at an agreeable compromise. Should such a compromise not be possible, the parties should contact the following: in the case of the Kent student center plaza, the curator of the plaza; or in the case of other locations, the office of campus life.”

Still being compliant with policy 4-03.1 (D)(2), myself and hundreds of gun owners plan on legally gathering on Risman Plaza, since the university permits demonstrations, marches, and non-university affiliated speakers on campus, and plan on congregating on the Kent student center plaza, under Policy 4-03.1 (D)(2)(a).  Concurrent with the event hosted by Liberty Hangout at Kent State on Risman Plaza the same day, the chapter’s president, Michael Heil, has permitted us to share the space for the three hours he has it booked, which complies with Policy 4-03.1 (D)(2)(b) and (c).  Lastly, both Michael and I have communicated with numerous members of the University’s Administration, prior to your recent attempts to hinder the event.

From the moment I announced the open carry rally, I made it clear my intention was to comply with University policies.  Jeffry Smith’s rallies in April of 2017 and September 2016 were compliant, and my scheduled rally has and still is compliant.  The issue with my rally is clearly because of a counter-protest announced by an outside entity.  If the University is concerned about a conflict, it should direct more attention to prevent the counter-protest from interfering with our scheduled rally that is set to work in tandem with Liberty Hangout at Kent State’s event.  The University’s Policy clearly allows their event to occur in a separate location.

In conclusion, your letter stating that I was required to “register” my event is incorrect and misleading, as you would have been well aware of my right to hold the rally under Policy 4-03.1 (D)(2).  Additionally, you have yet to point to any provision in the Policy that states that I am not permitted to advertise for my compliant rally.  I hope both you, Dr. Hylton, and/or any other relevant member of the Administration return to a reasonable viewpoint of facilitating our right to free speech, and ensuring the safety of the students, rally attendees, and counter-protestors.


Kaitlin Bennett

Support Kaitlin and her #CampusCarryNow movement by ordering a tshirt here