Gun Rights Demonstrators Met by Antifa at Kent State University
Hundreds of gun rights demonstrators gathered at Kent State University in Ohio on Saturday to protest the university’s policy of prohibiting students and employees from carrying firearms on campus. They were met by an even larger number of counter-protestors who prevented their march across campus to raise awareness about Second Amendment rights. Despite high tensions and heated rhetoric which led to some minor disturbances, no serious injuries occurred and there were only four arrests.
The event, advertised as Open Carry with Kaitlin Bennett, the woman who became a minor celebrity this spring as the “Kent State Gun Girl” for taking a graduation picture with her AR-10, was intended to open a dialogue with students about the Second Amendment and gun rights. Demonstrators included current Kent State students as well as gun rights activists drawn from across Ohio. A sizable portion of the demonstrators open carried sidearms while a minority, including Ms. Bennett, carried rifles. 500 police officers from across the state, many in riot gear, provided security for the event.
Following opening remarks from Ms. Bennett and Ryan Fournier of Students for Trump, the group set off towards campus across Summit Street. As soon as the demonstrators began marching, a large crowd of counter-protestors including members of Antifa and Black Lives Matter emerged from Risman Plaza. The vanguard of this group ran to cut off the pro-Second Amendment marchers as they entered campus. As soon as the two groups were within hearing distance of one another insults began to fly back and forth as the police attempted to keep the two groups separated.
After advancing a few hundred yards, the gun rights marchers were halted by a mass of counter-protesters on the Lefton Esplanade in front of Bowman Hall. This was the tensest moment of the march, confined between two buildings, with masked, black-clad Antifa members on every side. Counter-protestors began to toss water balloons made to look like hand grenades into the crowd of gun rights supporters. After a half hour standoff and multiple scuffles between Antifa and the police, the gun rights marchers began to withdraw the way they had come.
Counter-protestors, at this point mostly students, followed the gun rights supporters to the parking lot where they had formed. As Antifa dispersed, attempts at dialogue were made between the two sides however this often devolved into shouting matches. Following the event, Kaitlin Bennett tweeted, “What we saw at my #KSUOpenCarryWalk today was the left prove that they are neither peaceful nor tolerant. We wanted dialogue and they wanted violence…” All four arrests were of non-student counter-protestors.
Based on the signs and chants of the counter-protestors, it seems that most of them came out not in opposition to gun rights, but rather to Donald Trump and the belief that the gun rights demonstrators were white nationalists. While this belief was unfounded, the perception of white nationalism was detrimental to the gun rights supporters. Many of the Second Amendment supporters expressed agreement with the text of the opposition’s signs while questioning their definition of the words “Nazi” and “Fascist.”
When asked if the optics of the open carry walk could prove detrimental to the gun rights cause, one Kent State student among the gun rights demonstrators said, “I hear both voices and I get it . . . but it’s important to stick to the message. Maybe there’s a better way [to advocate for gun rights], but this is the way we’ve chose. I’ll take any chance to support the Second Amendment.”
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