This past week, Kutztown students, faculty and staff were first learning of the university’s new weapons policy which opens the campus to guns. The new policy, according to the Morning Call, will give “Kutztown more gun freedom than most of the state-owned universities, even more than the sample policy suggested by the state’s attorneys,” despite statements to the contrary by the university’s president, Javier Cevallos. It didn’t take long before the radical, pro-gun playbook showed its ugly face. Shortly after he first heard about the policy under consideration at an April meeting of Kutztown’s Administrative Council, the president of the faculty union, Dr. Paul Quinn, began receiving anonymous death threats. Faculty first learned of these threats at a May 9th meeting of the union’s Representative Council and the Morning Call reported on the threats this past Friday.
I spoke with Quinn over the weekend about what happened.
Quinn, a physics professor, said after his classes on Thursday, May 2, he walked into his office to find that someone slipped a folded note under his office door. “At first, I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “I opened the note and it said, ‘Drop the gun issue or else.'”
Quinn said that after he read the note he immediately made several calls, including one to the Executive Director of Kutztown’s Human Resources department. She told Quinn to go to the police immediately. “I alerted my Chair and my Chair said yes, go.” Quinn and a union representative met with Kutztown University’s Director of Police Services and Acting Chief of Police, John Dillon shortly afterwards. “The only time I could get there was around two o’clock,” Quinn explained. “I had an office hour from 1:30 to 3:00. So, I normally would have been in my office. I went at two o’clock to deliver that note to Public Safety. When I got back an hour and a half later, there was a second note under the door. The second note said, ‘What scares you more, guns or death?’”
“What this means,” Quinn said, “is that someone was watching.”
Up until a union Representative Council meeting on Thursday, May 9, the only official word about the university’s new gun policy from the union came from a May 3 email from Quinn to faculty. The email included links to the university’s old policy and the new policy. Quinn wrote,
Here is some information for you to be aware of. The administration has decided to change the current weapons policy on campus. The link to the new policy is included below. Administrative Council discussed it at their last meeting, and now it has been posted on the website. I am sending you this email so that you are aware of this change. I have attached the previous policy so that you can see what the comparisons are for yourself. This change seems to be occurring at other Universities in the state system, one of which is Millersville, however, not all have adopted the change at this point. Please be aware that you should NOT be discussing this in your classes unless it is related to the material covered in your course. Feel free to talk about it OUTSIDE of your classes, but discussion in classes can lead to discipline. We will be discussing this change at Representative Council next week. Have a good weekend.
The fact that Quinn received death threats on the day before he wrote this email to faculty suggested that a person or group of people think that Quinn is leading an opposition to the university’s gun policy. “What’s weird is that I have not taken a position on this new policy,” Quinn said.
According to Quinn, the first he or faculty members on the university’s safety committee had heard of the new policy was at the last Administrative Council meeting on April 19. “After a five-minute discussion, they wanted to vote on it,” Quinn recounted. Quinn said that he did not have time to digest the impact of the policy, so he abstained from voting. “I didn’t vote yes or no.” Quinn said he wanted a chance to better understand the issue. “It was my understanding — and the understanding of other faculty members on Administrative Council — that the university administration still had to work with PASSHE on the policy and it probably wouldn’t be effective until the fall, which is why I thought I had time to discuss and get input.”
Quinn contacted other faculty members who have experience in law and public policy — some who were also avid gun owners — to ask their opinions. Quinn was given several resources to help him look into the issue. When Quinn asked Kutztown President Javier Cevallos if the new policy was public, Cevallos said it was. “So, this policy was not secret, I planned on bringing it up at Meet and Discuss and at Rep Council,” Quinn said.
Quinn presented the new policy at the union’s next Executive Committee meeting. “I talked about it with Exec and Exec was furious” that this was the first they had heard that the university administration was writing a new weapons policy. “So we decided that we would contact a lawyer to get a white paper opinion from someone who was not APSCUF or PASSHE,” Quinn explained. “Somehow, that information must have gotten out.” And then came the death threats.
Quinn said their have been additional notes and other forms of intimidation, but he is not at liberty to discuss them as they are now part of an official police investigation. Quinn, however, is not intimidated. After he told his chair of the first note, his chair was very concerned. “He said I needed to go home,” Quinn recalls. “I said, ‘bullshit. I am not going home’.”
The Free Exchange of Ideas and the Barrel of a Gun
One of the central contradictions of radical, pro-gun activists is that despite all their rhetoric about defending the Constitution and liberty, their Constitution seems to begin and end with the Second Amendment. We should remember that the First Amendment contains quite a few nuggets that Americans tend to cherish as well:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That’s right. The freedom of religion is right next to the freedom of speech, the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. And yet, the brand of pro-gun activism that has taken hold in this country over the past few decades with seemingly endless flow of money from the Gun Industry’s main lobbying and trade association, the National Rifle Association, has all but abandoned a commitment to freedom of speech, the press, or assembly unless they are the ones doing the talking. To raise objections to any sensible gun regulation is enough for the Gun Industry to unleash the dogs, call for the abandoning of first amendment rights, and call for the “blood of patriots and tyrants.” Such calls for violence in response to speech that the NRA has championed in its public rhetoric, has become a virtual playbook for any individual or small group wishing to worship at the altar of Glock of Smith and Wesson.
Last month, Michele Richinick of MSNBC News chronicled how pro-gun activists have consistently used death treats and other threats of violence made against legislators in favor of some form of gun control. Here’s a few highlights:
- In New York, Representative Carolyn Maloney reported receiving “death threats at her Manhattan office…telling her not to proceed with a new piece of gun control legislation she introduced in March.”
- Colorado State Representative Rhonda Fields, a supporter of a gun reform bill, received a “letter saying, ‘There will be blood,’ expressing hope that someone would ‘Giffords’ her. Six emails to Fields and a similar voice mail contained profanity and sexual and racial epithets. The man responsible for the threats, Franklin Sain, a “chief operating officer of an information technology firm,” was arrested in February.
- In February, Everett Basham was charged with threatening to kill California State Senator Leland Yee for his support for proposed gun legislation. “Police found 26 guns, thousands of bullets, and dozens of high-capacity ammunition magazines in Everett Basham’s home.”
Threats have not been limited to legislators either. Following her appearance on Fox News discussing issues of sexual assault and gun policy, writer and Democratic strategist Zerlina Maxwell received a flood of threatening messages on her Twitter and Facebook feeds. Maxwell resisted Sean Hannity’s premise that women need to carry guns to prevent being raped. For not embracing the armed woman solution, Maxwell was forced to wade through messages like these:
- From Michael Shapiro | @michael_ny_usa: @ZerlinaMaxwell Ni___r! I hope you get raped and your throat slit! Maybe then you understand why white women have to be armed! DIE BITCH!
- From @jones17doug: @ZerlinaMaxwell you need to be gang raped to you get some common sense. You stupid bitch.
The point of these messages and threats are clear: to intimidate and instill fear. These intimidation tactics have become part of the fabric of radical, pro-gun activists.
One of the long-held tenets of higher education in the United States is that it is a place for the free exchange of ideas. It is one of the few crucibles of democracy left in a nation that seems hell-bent on privatizing every public space where citizens can debate and discuss important issues of their time. The arrival of radical, pro-gun death threats on Kutztown University’s campus marks an attempt to destroy open, honest, and, yes, often heated debate in favor of a climate of fear.
Raging Chicken Press will continue to follow this issue.