Gun activists spark controversy at Miami last week
Twenty individuals openly carrying guns walked around Miami's campus advocating for gun rights, and many professors cancelled classes on Friday, May 3.
According to Miami's student code of conduct, weapons of any kind - including knives, pepper spray and firearms - are all strictly prohibited on campus without the permission of the Miami University Police Department (MUPD).
President Gregory Crawford sent out an email to Oxford students detailing the legality of the demonstration: "As a public institution, our campus is public property. Ohio law permits people to openly carry weapons on public property."
Professors like Pepper Stetler, an associate art professor, sent out emails to students cancelling class in light of the open-carry walk.
"After much deliberation and receiving emails from many students, I've decided to cancel class today due to the open carry event that is scheduled. Students should not have to feel unsafe to come to class," Stetler wrote. "I see my time with each of you ... as extremely valuable ... I do not want that time to be a cause of stress."
Jeffry Smith, a concealed carry course instructor from Cincinnati, began organizing open-carry walks across college campuses in 2014, starting with the University of Cincinnati. He is an NRA member, but he does not set up these demonstrations on behalf of any gun advocacy organization.
Smith has done 11 open-carry walks at universities and other events such as Cincinnati and Columbus pride parades. He helped organize Kent State student and gun rights activist Kaitlin Bennett's first open-carry event at the university.
"The purpose of these campus open-carry walks is to inform and engage college students and the public about the right to keep and bear arms, including discussing how those rights are diminished by various laws," the organizers wrote on the event's Facebook page.
The activists walked from the south campus garage through and around campus, stopping at Pearson Hall for a photo opportunity.
Throughout the event, there were various instances where students and Miami community members yelled either in support or opposition to the group as they passed.
Sophomore family science major Alexandria Fletcher spoke with Smith to voice opposition to the march.
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Fletcher lead the opposition group that protested the walk. She was inspired by David Hogg and Alex Wind, two students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived a mass shooting in February 2018 and who became major anti-gun activists.
"I felt genuinely unsafe to be on campus after hearing there would be guns, and I just wanted to do something to show that the majority of students aren't okay with this," Fletcher said. "I know so many people that have had classes cancelled or are staying home because they don't feel safe somewhere they call home."
The goal of the walk was to bring attention to guns as a political issue, but for many students seeing all of the guns made it too intimidating to speak up.
"To the people that aren't here or are staying home today, I'm sorry that your fear prevents you from participating --that your fears [you] base your decisions upon are not founded [on anything]," Smith said.
Kendall Arroyo, his wife and their three-year-old son participated in the walk. Both adults carried firearms. The family lives in Columbus and has no affiliation with Miami.
Arroyo first got involved when he participated in the original walk at Miami in 2016 and has accompanied Smith during the majority of his on-campus walks.
"I just want to be able to protect my family," Arroyo said. "I don't like seeing these laws being put in place that restrict my right to bear arms."
Connor Manley, a sophomore business economics major, passed by the group outside the Armstrong Student Center (ASC) and was disgusted.
"If the intention was to start a conversation, making the other side of that conversation afraid and uncomfortable isn't the way to do it," Manley said.
Smith felt that organizing these events was the best way to get people's attention.
"We just want to start a conversation, and a rifle draws attention," Smith said.
Caroline Delaney, a sophomore pre-med and kinesiology major, passed the group but was put off from interacting with them because they were carrying weapons.
"Having a gun on campus - just days after a shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte - just feels like a big 'fuck you' to all the victims of mass shootings and school shootings specifically," Delaney said.
MUPD supervised the event by following the group around campus but never had any reason to intervene.