First Amendment Rights Trampled in Pittsburgh after Student Advocates for Concealed Carry of Firearms on Campus

By on May 27, 2009

Today we report on a college that has egregiously kicked the First Amendment in the teeth. Student Christine Brashier just wants to form a gun-rights group at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), but she has been censored and threatened with disciplinary action for her efforts. FIRE took up her case as soon as we learned that administrators banned her informational pamphlets, ordered her to destroy all copies of them, interrogated her about her legal activities, and told her that further "academic misconduct" would not be tolerated.

In April, Brashier created pamphlets to distribute to her classmates encouraging them to join her in forming a chapter of the national Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) organization at CCAC. The handbill states that the group "supports the legalization of concealed carry by licensed individuals on college campuses." She personally distributed copies of the flyer, which identified her as a "Campus Leader" of the effort to start the chapter.

On April 24, Jean Snider, Student Development Specialist at CCAC’s Allegheny Campus, summoned Brashier to a meeting that day with Snider and Yvonne Burns, Dean of Student Development. According to Brashier, the deans told Brashier that passing out her non-commercial pamphlets was prohibited as "solicitation." Amazingly, they told Brashier that trying to "sell" other students on the idea of the organization was prohibited. If it is true that trying to "sell" students on an idea is prohibited as a matter of solicitation, virtually the entire enterprise of the college is prohibited. All persuasive speech would have to be pre-approved by the college. This is no way to run a college, and such a rule is wildly, recklessly unconstitutional.

Not only that, CCAC also told Brashier that the college must pre-approve any distribution of literature to fellow students, and that pamphlets like hers would not be approved. The deans (apparently Burns did most of the talking) even insisted that Brashier destroy all copies of her pamphlet.

Brashier reports that she was also interrogated about why she was distributing the pamphlets, whether she owned a licensed firearm and had ever brought it to campus (she has not), whether she carries a concealed firearm off campus, and whether she disagrees with the existing college policy banning concealed weapons on campus.

When Brashier stated that she wanted to be able to freely discuss the college’s policy against concealed handguns on campus, she was told to stop doing so without the permission of the CCAC administration. Dean Burns reportedly said, "You may want to discuss this topic but the college does not, and you cannot make us." Brashier was then told to cease all activities related to her involvement with SCCC at CCAC and that such "academic misconduct" would not be tolerated.

We wrote CCAC President Alex Johnson on April 29 about these egregious violations of Brashier’s First Amendment speech and association rights. Of course, her free speech in no way constituted solicitation, CCAC is obligated to permit students to distribute literature and may not ban it on the basis of viewpoint or content, and if CCAC recognizes student organizations at all, it must recognize an organization that supports concealed carry on campus. We requested a response by May 13, and CCAC responded only by promising a reply from either CCAC or the Allegheny County Solicitor’s office at some "reasonable" future time. Two weeks have passed since that promise, leaving the First Amendment in dire jeopardy at CCAC.

This incident is the worst and latest in a significant trend of punishing students for debating the Second Amendment in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. At Central Connecticut State University, after a student gave a class presentation about concealed firearms on campus, his professor called the police. At Hamline University, a student was suspended, pending a mental health evaluation, after he advocated in an e-mail for concealed weapons on campus. The SCCC chapter at Tarrant County College in Texas has been prohibited, two years in a row, from holding an "empty holster protest." At Lone Star College near Houston, the Young Conservatives of Texas were censored and threatened with de-recognition when they distributed a humorous flyer listing "Top Ten Gun Safety Tips." Lone Star’s general counsel suggested that even a "mention of firearms and weapons" is inherently a "material interference" with the school’s operations.

Indeed, as FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said, "CCAC has demonstrated a shocking lack of respect for the rights of free speech and free association. Across the country, students are increasingly denied the First Amendment right to debate the Second Amendment. At CCAC, this censorship trend has reached a new low."

Let CCAC know what you think by writing to administrators here. Contact Alex Johnson, President of the Community College of Allegheny County, at 412-237-4413 or ajohnson@ccac.edu, and contact Elmer Haymon, President of CCAC’s Allegheny Campus (where Brashier is a student), at 412-237-2543 or ehaymon@ccac.edu.

Schools: Community College of Allegheny County Cases: Community College of Allegheny County: Student Denied Right to Start Advocacy Organization