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On Hallowed Ground: Guns at Kent State

Photo Source David Wilson | CC BY 2.0

The three defining events of the Vietnam War era, from my point of view, were the massacre at My Lai in Vietnam and the massacres of students at Kent State University by members of the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970, and the murders by police of students at Jackson State. At Kent State, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder were killed. At Jackson State in Mississippi on May 15, 1970, Phillip Gibbs and Earl Green were killed. Twelve others were wounded at Jackson State.

In the U.S., nothing is sacred now and that includes the hallowed land on which four students were murdered in Ohio and nine others were wounded, some with injuries that they have had to deal with for their entire lives.

Now on that hallowed ground in Ohio, an “open carry” walk is planned for September 29, 2018, as opposed to an originally scheduled rally on the campus of Kent State that will feature support of the so-called open carry of lethal weapons. On May 4, 1970, M-1 assault rifles were used against students protesting Richard Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War by way of extending that war into Cambodia. The war in Cambodia had been going on for some time, as was the air war in Laos, but the open expansion of the war in Cambodia showed just how duplicitous the vicious warmonger Richard Nixon could be and how far he was willing to go to renege on his so-called “secret plan” for peace that he touted during the election campaign of 1968. Nixon also called student protesters “bums.” Today’s assault weapons are the lethal heirs of the M-1 rifle.

The planned open carry walk has as an organizer a recent Kent State graduate, Kaitlin Bennett, who is known in the media as the “Kent State gun girl” (“Kent State ‘gun girl’ rally changed to walk after university charges security costs, bans guns at rally”). On or near the killing field of 1970, “hundreds of visitors [would have been allowed to] openly carry[ing] guns around campus and talk[ing] to students about gun rights and campus carry” (cleveland.com September18). After Kent State University officials sent a “cease-and-desist letter… to Bennett,” the rally was changed to a walk because the university said a student group needed to sponsor the walk before it was approved. A student group, Liberty Hangout, filed the necessary paperwork and met with school officials. The university held that the student group sponsor would be “responsible for security fees,” which resulted in no guns being permitted on campus during the event.

Guns are banned on the campus where history was writ large by official semi-automatic rifle fire in 1970, but “Visitors can [now] carry openly outdoors on campus, but may not carry concealed weapons” (cleveland.com September 18).

I called several department offices at Kent State University on September 24, 2018 for comment on the planned walk. I began with the president’s office, where a student answering the phone would not comment on the walk, citing school policy. Next, I called the executive director of media relations on campus and then the director of media relations at the school. Despite a phone conversation with the director of media relations, I received no response about the university’s point of view about the walk by the end of the day. I did speak to a student at Kent State. I asked what her thoughts were about the walk and she said that she had mixed feelings about the issue, but was not a gun lover. She stated: “I’m not in favor of carrying guns on campus.” That student mentioned the importance of the events of May 4, 1970, and their relationship to guns on campus. Although I exchanged emails with the editor-in-chief of the Kent Stater, the student newspaper at Kent State, that individual never returned an email for comment about the planned walk.

In a picture from graduation day at Kent State in the spring of 2018, the walk organizer, Kaitlin Bennett, is pictured on campus with an AR-10 slung across her back, one of many so-called assault rifles that fire rounds of ammunition at high speed on their semi-automatic setting. Rifles of that type have been used in many, many mass shootings in the U.S. over the past several years and have resulted in mass casualties of innocent individuals, among whom can be counted the innocent children and their professional staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, and the mass shooting of concertgoers in Las Vegas, Nevada in October 2017.

The Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, was written in 1791. That amendment had its origins in so-called rights “pre-existing at both common  law and in early state constitutions.” The grotesque calamity of that amendment was that guns in 1791 were mainly flintlocks and the language of the writing included the call for an armed militia that could loosely be parsed as what now exists in states as the national guard. There were no large concerts and movie theaters and schools with large numbers of innocent people in 1791. The Founders could not have imagined the bald-face horror of maladjusted people eliminating masses of people through the use of semi-automatic rifles and handguns capable of shooting large “clips” of lethal ammunition. The use of rapid-fire assault weapons could not have been foreseen in 1791 in settings where identifiable groups of perpetrators sensed an illogical threat from other groups within this society, or the existence of bullying and untreated mental health issues. In a society coming apart at the seams due to the lack of cohesiveness, guns have become largely a white male’s method of settling mundane grudges and perceived wrongs. Issues once settled within somewhat cohesive communities are now sometimes settled with lethal weapons. Gun organizations, lobbies and manufacturers call the tune of influence and profit that reflects, although somewhat imperfectly, the warring nature of U.S. society.

 

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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