Kaitlin Bennett didn’t like the rules that kept her from carrying a gun on campus.
So the day after she received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Kent State University on Saturday – no longer bound by those rules – she put on a summery white dress, flung an AR-10 rifle over her back and posed for photos around campus.
She accessorized with her mortar board, decorated with a picture of a rifle and the words, “Come and Take It.”
She shared the photo with the world on Twitter, where it has fired up heated debate about guns on campus and been retweeted nearly 2,000 times.
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“It’s a bad ass photo,” she told NBC4 in Columbus.
“Now that I graduated from Kent State – I can finally arm myself on campus,” she tweeted. “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.”
She referenced the 1970 shooting on campus when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a group of Vietnam War protesters, killing four students.
“You see in the media a lot about college students and high school students, being advocates for gun control,” she told NBC4. “But you don’t see a lot going viral about students who are pro-second amendment and pro-gun rights.”
Bennett told the school she planned to take the photos on Sunday, university spokesman Eric Mansfield told Fox 8 in Cleveland. Once she graduated, she was “no longer restricted under the policy as a student.”
Kent State prohibits the possession, storage or use of a “deadly weapon” – which includes firearms – by students, faculty and staff, according to its policy on the Kent State website. But visitors may openly carry a gun on campus since it’s considered public state property.
Bennett, 22, from Zanesville, Ohio, helped lead an open carry demonstration on campus in April but didn’t carry a weapon because of the school’s policy, the Akron Beacon-Journal reported.
According to local and national media, she founded the Kent State chapter of the conservative group called Liberty Hangout, which calls itself a “growing libertarian media outlet which brings readers relevant insight into current events promotes Austrian economics property rights.”
Bennett told Campus Reform she worries that the school’s gun policy limits students’ abilities to protect themselves on campus, again referencing the 1970 shootings.
“Kent State University is a school in which the government shot four unarmed students 48 years ago,” she told the conservative news outlet that covers higher education.
“I believe not only that those four students would still be alive today had they had the right to carry on campus, but that students today would be much safer.”
She got pushback on that theory on social media, where her photo and tweet were both applauded and scorned.
People said they liked her hair, but hated the gun.
She told local media she’s gotten death threats because of the tweet. “I carry (a gun),” she told NBC4. “So I’m not nervous.”
Nice!! Stand up for your right to carry.
— Norm Tomlinson (@PloKoon01) May 15, 2018
Can I just say I love your hair?! And while I may not 100% agree with you, I love that you are brave enough to post a photo so daring to fight for what you believe in and even though it may have caused you some backlash at least you are getting people talking.
— Madison (@madibaby_24) May 15, 2018
You think shooting at the National Guard would have gone well for you?
— Pirate Angel (@FusingHelium3) May 14, 2018
Try showing up with your weapon at the US Capitol, the White House, an NFL game, an airport, the mall, the US Mint, an FBI office, and finally a police station. Please report back about your results. Oh, and a military installation.
— Positively Hillary (@YesforHillary) May 16, 2018
We have campus carry in Texas, but we keep it concealed. I posted an every-day-carry picture one time but as a statement about the sad state of affairs that has come about since I began teaching. This wasn’t part of my teacher’s toolkit twelve years ago: pic.twitter.com/h9BpuLi9r3
— Jason Rogers (@RogersforHD57) May 16, 2018
On Tuesday she tweeted another photo of herself with her gun, writing, “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.”
Universities that prohibit students from defending themselves but allow guests to do so “are in a sense saying that they don’t value the safety of their students,” she told Campus Reform. “Why are guests more important than the students who are paying thousands of dollars to attend the university?”
In his statement to Fox 8, university spokesman Mansfield said the school was recently ranked the safest big college campus in Ohio and 25th safest in the country, according to the National Council for Home Safety and Security.
“The university has a full-time, certified police force of more than 30 sworn officers who protect the campus. These officers are visible, well-trained and on duty 24/7 in support of students, staff and faculty,” he wrote.
Bennett told NBC4 she’s planning a career in animal sciences.
“Animals are innocent,” she told NBC4. “They’re cute. Humans? Nah.”
And, she plans to stay in the area to work with the student group she founded on campus.
“If students thought my political activism at Kent will be over now that I have graduated, they are wrong,” she told Campus Reform.
“I will still be in the area and intend on returning to campus to assist with Liberty Hangout at Kent State … Only this time, I won’t have to worry about being expelled for expressing my views.”
The Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act, which took effect July 1, allows concealed handguns to be carried on more than 30 two-year and four-year colleges in the state. Here’s what you need to know. Neil NakahodoThe Kansas City Star