Guns on Campus Have Already Curtailed Free Speech

October 27, 2014 / Phil Lesch

The Chronicle of Higher Education
October 27th, 2014

Earlier this month, the feminist and media critic Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak to students on the campus of Utah State University. The day before her talk, emails were sent to staff and faculty threatening violence if Sarkeesian was allowed to proceed. The threats were fairly general: Sarkeesian and all the feminists in the audience were the targets. But they were also exceptionally charged, promising "the deadliest school shooting in American history."

Administrators and public-safety officials met with Sarkeesian and made plans to increase security. However, once Sarkeesian learned that Utah State could not guarantee a gun-free audience because state law allows concealed weapons on college campuses, she, understandably, canceled her appearance. In that decision, we witnessed one of the first clear examples of how laws allowing concealed weapons on a college campus can thwart academic freedom and First Amendment rights to free speech.

Until then, faculty members might have been able to articulate ways in which they had censored themselves in their classrooms because of gun laws, but it would have been more difficult to point to an actual moment where the presence of guns on a college campus curtailed free speech. Now we have that moment.

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