A 22-year-old graduate of Kent State University posted a series of photos on Twitter showing herself walking on the Ohio college’s campus with an AR-10 rifle slung over her shoulder. Not surprisingly, the photos whipped up a heated backlash on social media, but in the face of criticism, death threats — and even marriage proposals — the young woman is not backing down.
Kaitlin Bennett, who just graduated from the university on Saturday, obtained permission to conduct a photo shoot on campus and posted the resulting images on her Twitter feed the following day. In addition to showing her with the AR-10, a firearm that actually belongs to her brother, the photos show her carrying her graduation cap with a defiant four-word phrase that she said dates back to the American Revolution on top if it: “Come and take it.”
Now that I graduated from @KentState, I can finally arm myself on campus. I should have been able to do so as a student- especially since 4 unarmed students were shot and killed by the government on this campus. #CampusCarryNow pic.twitter.com/a91fQH44cq
— Kaitlin Bennett (@KaitMarieox) May 13, 2018
“I wanted to take a jab at the insulting policies Kent State has regarding arming their students,” Bennett said Thursday morning during an appearance on Fox News. In a separate interview with The Washington Post, Bennett explained the symbolism behind the photos. “I believe that if the government has it, we should have it. Machine guns — any weaponry,” she said. “To make sure the government can’t go against the citizens. We should be able to protect ourselves against a tyrannical government.”
Nearly half a century ago, the campus of Kent State was the site where four unarmed college students who were protesting the Vietnam War were fatally shot by members of the Ohio National Guard. The tragedy sent shockwaves through American culture and inspired the song “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, which featured the haunting refrain, “Four dead in Ohio.”
Bennett has long been critical of the school’s policy that bars students, faculty and staff members from carrying concealed firearms on campus, but allows graduates and visitors to do so while outdoors. She said the symbolism of carrying the AR-10 on that particular campus helped make her point.
But many were offended given the location of her photo shoot and the tragic history in its past. “To see that tweet, ‘Come and take it,’ as if lives weren’t taken on that campus due to gun violence, just shocked me,” Aliah Kimbro, a 19-year-old sophomore at Kent State, told Refinery 29. “Kent became an open-carry campus in the last year and there were many protests from that, the incident of May 4 not forgotten.”
There was also a racial component to the criticism. Kimbro said that as a black woman, her gun rights “aren’t safe anywhere.” Others pointed out that if a person of color were to attempt such a demonstration, the outcome might have been far different. “If [a] person of color was walking around campus with a gun the whole damn police station would come and shoot them in a second #WhitePrivilege,” one Twitter user wrote.
Bennett in her appearance on Fox News said she has been the victim of racism amid the backlash to her photos.
“I was not expecting the blatant racism that’s been thrown at me,” Bennett declared. “They’re saying that I have white privilege for going out on campus with my AR-10. I think that’s very insulting to minorities. I don’t think that anything bad would happen to them.” She added, “I actually had a black police officer with me the whole time. He was just … he loved it.”
I have no apologies for my graduation photos. As a woman, I refuse to be a victim & the second amendment ensures that I don't have to be. pic.twitter.com/5CKmQobrMb
— Kaitlin Bennett (@KaitMarieox) May 15, 2018
Bennett said the school policy suggests to her that the university is more concerned with the lives of visitors to the campus than the students who attend on a daily basis. Just last month, she put together a rally calling for students to bring their weapons.
She also founded the Kent State chapter of Liberty Hangout, a libertarian media outlet. Bennett said she’s long been involved in conservative campus politics and she’s witnessed conservatives attacked on campus. Last month, she said, someone punched one of Liberty Hangout’s cameramen and damaged his equipment. “The presence of a firearm would have deterred this assault,” she said about the incident in a post on Twitter. Kent State has a reputation for being one of the safest college campuses with more than 10,000 students in the nation, according to The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, since her gun photos went viral, Bennett said she’s been receiving death threats, a development that she says underscores her point about the necessity for students to be allowed to carry a weapon on campus. “I’m not nervous, because everyone knows that I’m armed,” Bennett observed. “I don’t know why they would threaten an armed person.”
In addition to the death threats, Bennett has also received support from other Second Amendment enthusiasts, along with marriage proposals — which she has had to decline (she has a boyfriend) — and she’s tangled with David Hogg, one of the teens who survived the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and has since become an outspoken gun reform advocate.
As for carrying a semi-automatic rifle on campus, she said that as a student, she would’ve carried a concealed handgun. But for dramatic effect in the photos, the AR-10, she suggested, was a more effective weapon. And she refuses to apologize or back down in the face of critics.
“I have no apologies for my graduation photos. As a woman, I refuse to be a victim & the second amendment ensures that I don’t have to be.”
Amid all of the furor, she said on Fox News that she’s been offered a job by a firearm company. Below, watch that full interview.
— Kaitlin Bennett (@KaitMarieox) May 17, 2018
And watch her interview with The Washington Post below.