Kent State University is increasing security on campus Saturday, the day an open carry gun walk is planned.
The walk is being organized by Kent State graduate Kaitlin Bennett — the “Kent State gun girl” who graduated in May — and is scheduled from 2 to 5 p.m., according to social media posts.
The University Library and the Kent Student Center, including the University Bookstore, will be closed, and residence halls will implement guest security measures, according to a news release from the university.
Some roads on campus also may be closed during the day, although no specifics were given.
A call to the Kent Police Department about the city’s preparations for Saturday was not returned.
But KSU officials announced Thursday afternoon that other groups may also be on hand.
“Social media activity indicates that a significant number of supporters and counter-protesters may come to campus,” according to a news release from the university. “The university is taking steps to manage the potential interaction of these groups and will have measures in place to maintain the safety of our university community.”
Bennett said this week that she’s expecting about 150 pro-gun rights protesters, some flying in from distant states, but most coming from Northeast Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
She also expects counter protesters, she said, but didn’t know how many.
“It’s so important to talk to people who disagree with you,” she said.
According to the university, Kent State police will be visible on campus and have developed a “comprehensive safety and security plan.” The university stressed Ohio law allows private citizens to carry guns on campus, although Kent State bans students, faculty and staff from carrying weapons. The university also does not allow firearms inside buildings.
“During this time, we remind all members of the university community of our shared commitment to Kent State’s core values,” the statement said. “While we honor freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas, we are also a community that values the importance of diversity and inclusion where there is no place for language that demeans others. We are mindful that the events of Saturday may challenge those values, and we are committed to our top priority — the safety and security of our university community.”
Kent State also said the Creativity Festival scheduled for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday would continue on the Lefton Esplanade between Rockwell Hall and downtown Kent. No firearms are permitted at the festival.
Bennett captured internet and media attention when she posed for a graduation photo with an AR-10 rifle slung across her back last spring.The photo, which she posted on Twitter, got thousands of retweets and likes and Bennett appeared on “Fox and Friends” several days after graduation.
Bennett had originally 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.
Those plans initially led Kent State to issue a cease and desist order to Bennett claiming she must stop advertising the gathering because she has not registered the event, nor obtained approvals that the school’s policy requires.
Bennett said she’s not worried about the pro-gun rights protesters acting inappropriately.
She plans to carry at PA-15 during the walk, a rifle she said is identical to the better-known AR-15 rifle, but made by Palmetto State Armory in South Carolina.
She’ll carry the rifle in a sling on her back, the method she’ll insist all long-gun carriers use during Saturday’s walk.
Bennett said she’ll also ask participating gun owners to keep rounds out of the chamber for safety because not everyone is trained to maintain control of a weapon if someone tries to strip it from a sling.
Handgun owners, she said, will be told to holster their weapons for the walk.
She declined to specify the route of the walk, saying only she and police know where they’re heading. According to a map on Liberty Hangout’s Facebook page, parking for the open carry walk will be in the Schwartz Center parking lot and the one adjoining it on the south side of Summit Street opposite the student center and library.
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, email@example.com or @bobgaetjens_rpc.