Group sues Kent State over cost of planned open carry event

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KENT, Ohio - Less than two months after an open carry march on the Kent State University campus, a student organization wants to have the organizer back.

Kaitlin Bennett, best known for a photograph taken of her posing with a semi-automatic weapon following her graduation from Kent State in 2017, is pushing the university to allow students to open carry guns on campus.

The school currently prohibits students, faculty and contractors who are working on campus from carrying guns on university property. However, it allows others that right, under Ohio's open carry laws, except that no one is permitted to have guns inside any of the school's buildings.

The march in September cost the school $65,000 in fees to hire additional troopers, police and security officers to protect both the marchers and the counter demonstrators.

For the Nov. 19 event, a registered student organization calling itself Liberty Hangout reserved Kiva Hall, a 400-seat auditorium, for a question-and-answer session featuring Bennett.

"The goal with that one is to try and give students and people in the area a chance to ask questions about what happened on the 29th, as well as to get our message out very clearly. Some of the protesters that came to the one in September really muddled our message and I think our impact was still made. But I still want to make sure that students and the public really know what we are all about and what we are trying to get done," said Michael Heil, President of Liberty Hangout.

The event rules mirror those of the university for use of the hall, including no weapons.
But the university is charging the organization $1,800 to provide for additional security for the event. In a federal lawsuit, lawyers representing Liberty Hangout argue the fee is unconstitutional in that it amounts to a suppression of their Second Amendment rights.

Bill Becker, founder of California based Freedom X, told FOX 8 News Kent State is effectively punishing the organization because of the acts of counter demonstrators. He said the school should be required to absorb the cost of the security.

"It discriminates against conservative groups like Liberty Hangout when a public university tries to suppress their rights to hold an event or charges them extra security fees, simply because some people out there are threatening violence," Becker said.

"What does it do when you limit somebody's freedom of speech based on a hecklers' veto, which is what this is... You reward the hostile mob and you punish those engaged in their free speech rights. That's unconstitutional," he said.

The federal lawsuit includes a temporary restraining order that Beker said would allow the group to hold its event even if the lawsuit is not settled.

"It's really a small group of people that runs Liberty Hangout and a lot of our club, like signs and buttons and everything, are paid for by ourselves. So when the school comes out and says, 'We need to charge you $1,800 for something you have no control over, it's like yeah, it's not fair. I can't afford that," Heil said.

The university said Kiva Hall is available to any student organization that wants to use it for an event and some are charged for security, while others are not, based on an individual assessment.

Kent State University declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday.

In the court documents, however, the school is quoted as saying:

"Kent State would not be justified in ignoring these threats or the security needs attendant to Ms. Bennett's previous event as it considers how to best protect Ms. Bennett, Liberty Hangout, and members of the University community who may participate in the anticipated November 19 event."

Continuing coverage of this story here

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