American colleges and universities have long been admired as bastions of free speech and thought. But today, a new wave of campus political correctness is on the offensive against free speech, including support of the Second Amendment.
National Rifle Association gun safety classes had long been taught at the nine-campus Los Angeles Community Colleges—until they were banned by the Board of Trustees. The Board’s vice president stated that colleges should “promote gun control” and not teach gun safety. To make sure that no safety training occurs, the trustees even banned inert plastic gun replicas, which have no moving parts and are colored to not resemble real guns.
College President Kathleen Burke says that the word “gun” may not be mentioned in the schools’ catalog, according to a report in The College Fix, a newspaper whose journalists cover political correctness on campus.
When a Central Connecticut State University student gave a class presentation supporting licensed firearms carry on campus, the professor called the police.
In 2018, Long Island University Post junior Anand Venigalla participated in an off-campus shooting event hosted by retailer Cabela’s. He posted Facebook pictures of himself holding some guns at the event. Then, a student who saw the pictures complained that the student “might have violent intentions”—even though there was nothing in the pictures suggesting violence.
The administration ordered Venigalla to an “imperative” meeting. There, the administration discussed its “concerns”—namely an essay that student had written the year before for a class on war, terrorism and justice. In the essay, Venigalla had cited the Boston Tea Party for the argument that political violence can sometimes be justified against the government, but not against individuals.
The inquiry against Venigalla was dropped, since he had violated no rules. Still, the administration had sent the strong message that participation in the shooting sports will lead to investigation of everything you have ever written.
If you go a step further, and expressly support the Second Amendment, the police may be summoned. When a Central Connecticut State University student gave a class presentation supporting licensed firearms carry on campus, the professor called the police. Since Connecticut has gun registration, the police interrogated the student about where he stores his registered guns.
Criticizing the administration’s gun ban was “deemed to be threatening and thus an alleged violation of the Hamline University Judicial Code.”
At Kent State University in Ohio, someone overheard a telephone call in which student Leandra Westbrook said it is “a shame that I cannot carry a gun on campus, considering I have my carry license.” Another student reported her to campus police. She was detained and interrogated by campus police, who let her go after ascertaining that she was not carrying.
Expressing support for campus carry can, in fact, bring severe consequences. After the 2007 Virginia Tech mass murders, the Hamline University (Saint Paul, Minn.) administration sent campus-wide emails informing students about counseling services. One student wrote back, suggesting that Virginia Tech’s ban on adult students carrying licensed handguns was a contributing factor in the murders, and that Hamline’s similar policy was dangerous.
He was immediately suspended, allowed to return to campus only if he had a mental health evaluation supervised by the administration. According to the Hamline administration, criticizing the administration’s gun ban was “deemed to be threatening and thus an alleged violation of the Hamline University Judicial Code.”
At some schools, Second Amendment speech is completely off limits. Students at Hampshire College (Massachusetts) scheduled a speech on “Women Empowerment and Second Amendment” by African-American activist Antonia Okafor. Two hours before the speech, the administration announced, “We have to cancel this event because we deem it too controversial and we are receiving calls from students and staff and professors and they are upset about it.” Further, “An event where someone is coming to campus to speak about the Second Amendment, which is a very controversial subject, would need to have extra considerations and precautions put into place, which cannot be done on such short notice.”
Likewise, when the Boise State University chapter of Young Americans for Liberty invited Dick Heller (the winning plaintiff in District of Columbia v. Heller) to speak, the administration demanded a $465 fee—for three security guards and two police officers. Information about the speech was scrubbed from the university’s website.
“An event where someone is coming to campus to speak about the Second Amendment, which is a very controversial subject, would need to have extra considerations.”
The problem exists everywhere, including areas where Second Amendment support is strong. The Texas Christian University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom scheduled a speech by
former Reagan administration official Bay Buchanan. The speech was titled “Fully Loaded,” and the handbill for the speech included a picture of an old shotgun. To raise funds, the student group planned a raffle, the prizes being firearm safety classes. The administration forbade the raffle and refused to distribute the flyer on official school websites. According to the administration, “Gun promotion is contradictory of the university’s policy to carry on campus. … Producing a poster with a rifle on it and the words ‘fully loaded’ can certainly cause alarm in today’s environment.”
Mentioning firearms is verboten at some schools. The University of Oregon’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty asked for $950 from the student government for a “Liberty Poker Night.” Because student fees are mandatory, the First Amendment requires that the fees be distributed to student groups without ideological discrimination. But funding was denied because the student government said that “the event’s pro-gun message” made some students feel “unsafe.” The event would have included door prizes—three firearms donated by local gun dealers. As YAL students made clear, the firearms would never be on campus, but would be picked up later from the gun dealers, in compliance with state and federal laws.
The thought of guns is also forbidden at some schools. The Yale University campus is renowned for the stone artwork adorning the buildings. One item depicts a Puritan and a Native American side by side—the Puritan holding a musket and the Native American a bow. The musket has been covered to prevent offense.
Even laughter is a potent weapon against conformity, and therefore must be suppressed. At Lone Star College, the Young Conservatives of Texas distributed a flyer that included a humorous list of “Top 10 Gun Safety Tips.” For example, “If your gun misfires, never look down the barrel to inspect it.” The school confiscated the flyers and warned the young conservatives that their group might be disbanded. According to the administration, any “mention of firearms and weapons” constitutes “material interference with the operation of the school or the rights of others.” The reason is that speech about guns “brings fear and concern to students, faculty and staff.”
The censorship resulted in a lawsuit by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The state school’s censorship regime was held unconstitutional by a federal district court.
But at private colleges, there are no First Amendment rights. So at Colorado College, a private school in Colorado Springs, the school’s Feminist and Gender Studies program published a newsletter, The Monthly Rag, discussing topics such as “male castration.” In response, two students put up a poster parodying the Rag. The posters mentioned “guy stuff” such as chainsaws and sniper rifles. Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste (formerly anti-gun governor of Ohio) declared that the posters were “threatening” and meant “to intimidate others.” He punished the students for their supposedly sex-related “violence.”
Students were also forbidden to wear pro-gun T-shirts, since these were supposedly “offensive” and constituted advocacy for “violence.”
To protest the “gun-free zone” at Portland State University, College Republicans created a satirical petition to make the university a “murder-free zone.” They created posters with messages such as “Make PSU Murder-Free Now!” In response, the administration denied the Republicans use of a table in a common area. Supposedly, the satirical message was “triggering” and “libelous,” and might provoke a violent response by anti-gun students.
At some campuses, Students for Concealed Carry organizes “Empty Holster Protests.” On a designated day, students protest campus gun bans by wearing empty holsters at the school. Tarrant County College (Texas) prohibited the protest. Students were also forbidden to wear pro-gun t-shirts, since these were supposedly “offensive” and constituted advocacy for “violence.” Students were also prohibited from handing out flyers. With no holsters or t-shirts, a protest was allowed only in the college’s so-called “free speech zone”—a 12-foot wide concrete slab.
In fact, criticizing campus gun bans is an unforgiveable deviation from political correctness at some colleges. At Allegheny County College (Pennsylvania), a student wanted to form a campus chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, and she distributed handbills about the organization. The administration ordered her to destroy the handbills. According to the administration, giving out free flyers about a new campus group was unlawful “solicitation” since the student was trying to “sell” other students on the idea of joining the group. A dean warned her that she would be punished if she persisted in what the administration called “academic misconduct.”
It’s not just students who are at risk of censorship. At St. Thomas University in Florida, Chief Financial Officer Anita Britt was ordered to resign because she serves on the board of directors of American Outdoor Brands, a conglomerate that owns Smith & Wesson and various firearm accessory companies.
In the upside-down world of today’s universities, verbal dissent from political correctness is considered “violence.” At the University of California’s Merced campus, the Campus Republicans held an event supporting immigration law enforcement. Students held signs saying, “I love undocumented firearms.” The university’s Associated Students, which distributes funding to campus groups, threatened to cut off funding because the signs constituted “violent actions.” The Campus Republicans were then stalked and harassed by faculty and by other students. A professor accused the Republicans of making “anti-Marxist arguments.”
That professor had, in fact, got to the real point. On campuses today, non-adherence to Marxism is a punishable offense.
While the problem of campus censorship is much broader than Second Amendment issues, it is no wonder that Second Amendment advocates are so frequently targeted. The censors hate what the NRA and the Second Amendment represent—individual rights, responsibility, self-sufficiency, courage and patriotism. After all, the NRA teaches personal safety classes titled “Refuse To Be A Victim”—exactly the opposite of campus indoctrination that teaches that everyone is a victim.
Second Amendment advocates are hated and persecuted on college campuses because their character is hard for totalitarians to control. As Thomas Jefferson advised his nephew, Peter Carr, in 1785, “As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind.”
Submission requires disarmament. When 17th-century French philosopher Jean Bodin argued against the free exercise of religion and the freedom of speech, he accurately observed, “We may not think ever to keep that people in subjection which hath always lived in liberty, if they not be disarmed.”
It’s important to note that the NRA is fighting back. Since 2008, NRA Grassroots has brought “NRA University” to more than 100 campuses. As Grassroots Director Glen Caroline explains, NRA University is “a two-hour training seminar for college students interested in learning more about NRA, the Second Amendment, gun safety, legislative threats to gun rights and the gun control debate.” All students who attend the seminar receive a one-year membership, lots of food and NRA swag.
But NRA Grassroots courses are not sufficient to resist the authoritarian tide. Two decades ago, NRA President Charlton Heston asked Harvard Law students, “Who here thinks your professors can say what they really believe? It scares me to death, and should scare you too, that the superstition of political correctness rules the halls of reason. … I submit that you, and your counterparts across the land, are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since Concord Bridge.”
What did Heston, who had marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights battle in the 1960s, advise? “Disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely. … I am asking you to disavow cultural correctness with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives and onerous laws that weaken personal freedom.
“But be careful,” he warned. “Disobedience demands that you put yourself at risk. … You must be willing to be humiliated … to endure the modern-day equivalent of the police dogs at Montgomery and the water cannons at Selma.”
He concluded: “So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God’s grace, built this country.”
Dave Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute and a frequent contributor to America’s 1st Freedom.