Kaitlin Bennett is determined not to let Kent State University thwart her plans to promote gun rights while carrying a firearm on campus.

Bennett — the “Kent State gun girl” who graduated in May — had initially planned an open-carry rally for Sept. 29, including speakers from right-wing groups InfoWars and Patriot Prayer. InfoWars is a media platform owned by far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Now Bennett, 22, is planning an “open-carry walk” after Kent State banned guns at the rally and said the student group connected to the event — Liberty Hangout — would have to pay more than $14,000 in security costs.

“We basically just feel like the [KSU] administration has treated us completely unfairly,” Bennett said Tuesday in an interview. “They have treated our student group with discrimination based on our beliefs. It’s unfortunate they would do that.”

She said the plan now is for her and an undetermined number of  gun-rights advocates to walk around campus while carrying guns “to demonstrate that gun owners are peaceful, we’re responsible and this is our right to do this.”

It's unclear whether the university will try to stop Bennett's latest plans for an open-carry event on campus. KSU spokesman Eric Mansfield said he couldn't comment Tuesday afternoon on the plans for a walk because the university had not received information from organizers.

Bennett, who lives in Summit County, captured internet and media attention when she posed for a graduation photo with an AR-10 rifle slung across her back. The photo, which she posted on Twitter, got thousands of retweets and likes and Bennett appeared on “Fox and Friends” several days after graduation.

She said Tuesday that the Sept. 29 walk would not include “sound amplification,” explaining, “It’s simply a walk around [campus] for us to engage with students.”

Bennett said, “We can stop and talk… Students at Kent State are not afraid to stop and stare and then you just ask them if they have any questions and usually they do.”

Bennett’s and Liberty Hangout’s decision Monday to switch the rally to a walk follows several weeks of negotiations between Bennett, Liberty Hangout members and university officials.

The university sent a cease-and-desist letter dated Aug. 29 to Bennett, before the rally had the sponsorship of student group Liberty Hangout.

KSU told Bennett in the letter to stop promoting the initial plan. The university said the rally had not been registered, as required by KSU policy — which also mandates that a registered student organization or department must sign on as sponsor.

The university also sent a cease-and-desist letter the same day to Black Lives Matter Cleveland, which was planning to protest Bennett’s rally.

The university confirmed Friday that it had approved Liberty Hangout’s request to host the open-carry rally on Risman Plaza, outside the KSU Student Center, but banned guns at the event.

Kent State said in a prepared statement Friday that because the event would be sponsored by a student organization, all participants — even nonstudents — would not be permitted to carry guns.

Bennett organized the Liberty Hangout student group last year. Her boyfriend, Justin Moldow, runs the Liberty Hangout website, which boasts the slogan, “Promoting Peace, Prosperity, and Property Rights Since 2015.”

KSU’s policy says that “students, staff, faculty and third parties doing business with the university are...prohibited from possessing, storing or using a deadly weapon while outside on university grounds, that is owned, operated or leased by the university.”

KSU’s policy also prohibits students, staff, faculty and third parties, as well as visitors, from having guns inside a building.

Bennett said she’s frustrated that Kent State officials did not mention the ban on guns when they said the rally needed sponsorship from a student organization.

“They have been acting very unprofessional through this entire thing," she said. "And not to mention the $14,300 they wanted us to pay.”

Bennett said that amount would cover seven hours of security and use of equipment while the event would have only lasted for three hours.

KSU's Mansfield would not respond to Bennett's latest criticisms of the university.

Last spring, when Bennett was a student, she organized an Open Carry/Firearms Liberty Outreach with gun-rights advocate Jeffry Smith of Cincinnati on campus. Several dozen gun rights advocates with handguns in holsters and rifles in slings walked in a line outside the student center. University officials have said that event was peaceful.

Bennett, who is from Zanesville, said she grew up in a conservative family that was not a “gun household.”

She said she was inspired to become a gun rights advocate while at Kent State when her brother got into owning guns.

She decided to finish her degree in biology, she said, even though she didn’t think she’d use it. Instead, she is delving more into gun rights activism. She also works at a gun shop in Cuyahoga Falls.

“If we allow infringement around our Second Amendment rights that paves the way for the government to infringe on other rights…. If you are 21 and you have a concealed carry license, then there’s absolutely no reason why your right to self defense stops because you enter a classroom.”

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.