TOO OFTEN, FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS DENIED TO SECOND AMENDMENT SPEECH
March 12, 2009
The First Amendment protects core political speech and that protection extends to speech regarding the Second Amendment. This means that students at public universities and private universities that promise the right to free expression on campus must be free to engage in unfettered discussion of the merits of federal, state and local gun policy in the same way that they are free to discuss, say, agricultural subsidies, diplomatic relations with Cuba, or last night's Daily Show.
But an unfortunate consequence of the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University is that students are increasingly facing punishment or investigation for engaging in any kind of gun-related speech, says William Creeley, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
It's useful to review just how many incidents of overreaction to gun-related speech we've seen on the part of school administrators in the past several years, says Creeley:
- At Central Connecticut State University, a student gave a presentation for his speech class about the safety value of concealed weapons on campus; his professor called the police, who subsequently interrogated him about where he was storing the guns that were registered under his name.
- At Tarrant County College in Texas, a student chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus was prohibited from wearing empty gun holsters to protest policies that forbid concealed carry on campus; in addition, the group was only allowed to protest (still without holsters) in the school's tiny and restrictive free speech zone.
- At Colorado College, two male students were found responsible for sexually-related "violence" after they put up posters making fun of a feminist newsletter; because the posters, which also parodied "guy stuff," made references to chainsaws and the range of a sniper rifle, administrators claimed that feminists on campus became afraid for their lives.
- At Lone Star College near Houston, the Young Conservatives of Texas distributed a humorous flyer listing "Top Ten Gun Safety Tips" at the school's "club rush"; they were threatened with probation and derecognition, and the flyer was censored.
- Arkansas Tech cancelled a student production of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins "out of respect for the families of those victims of the tragedies at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech, and from an abundance of caution."
- Yale University attempted a similar maneuver after the Virginia Tech shootings, banning the use of any realistic-looking weapons in theatrical productions at the school; under public pressure, Yale backed away somewhat from its original overreaction but still required audiences to be "notified in advance of the use of fake guns, swords and knives."
Source: William Creeley, "Too Often, First Amendment Protections Denied to Second Amendment Speech," Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, March 10, 2009.
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