CCAC apologizes for delay in answering gun-rights-group issue

May 29, 2009

The Community College of Allegheny County’s board chairman apologized on Thursday for the school’s delay in answering why it prevented a student from establishing a gun-rights group at the Allegheny Campus.

The student, Christine “Christa” Brashier, 24, of Squirrel Hill and the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a First Amendment group, say the school violated her right to free speech when it barred her from starting a CCAC chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

“The delay is indicative of how important we believe the issue to be,” said Thomas J. Santone, CCAC’s board chair and founder, chairman and CEO of PrimeSolutions, a Downtown financial company. Santone said he has read drafts of the formal reply and that it could be released as early as today.

A firestorm erupted on Wednesday when Brashier, a first-year student who hopes to be an elementary school teacher, and Robert L. Shibley, vice president of the foundation, said the dean of student development at the Allegheny Campus prohibited her from founding the club, which supports students being permitted to carry licensed, concealed weapons on campus.

“We apologize to the organization and the student for the delay, but our formal response is of critical importance,” Santone said yesterday. “We’d rather get it right than get it out.”

Adam Kissel, the foundation’s individual rights defense program director, wrote CCAC President Alex Johnson on April 29 asking “that you immediately recognize the college’s legal obligation to guarantee freedom of expression and association on campus.” Kissel asked that Johnson respond by May 13.

With no response as of Wednesday, Shibley contacted media organizations.

Brashier said that Dean Yvonne Burns told her on April 24 that she was breaking the law by passing out fliers about establishing a chapter of the gun-rights group. Brashier said she left the meeting fearing she would be expelled.

Burns did not return multiple phone calls. CCAC spokesman David Hoovler said that Johnson was out of town and unavailable for comment.

CCAC officials say they support students’ First Amendment rights — and that Brashier never faced any disciplinary action.

“She remains in good standing,” said Mike Adams, CCAC’s solicitor. “We have no intention to limit her involvement in any group or limit her ability to discuss her own political viewpoints.”

Brashier said she was happy to hear that — and in a chance meeting, told Hoovler that yesterday when both were being interviewed by television journalists at the same location on the Allegheny Campus.

“I said to him, if they had just said that to me in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now,” said Brashier. “I never wanted to fight with my school. I’m grateful to CCAC for giving me the chance to get an education.”

Brashier has worked for Oce Business Services, a New York-based document-management-process company with an office in Moon, for three years. Before that, she worked at a gas station-convenience store — a type of place notorious for armed robberies, Brashier said. She earned her GED in 2002 after attending several city high schools and The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

She said she was anti-gun until her older brother, Shawn Lupka, 31, of Squirrel Hill, took her to a firing range in 2005. She said she had been mugged at gunpoint in California’s Napa Valley when she was 14 and knows many people who have been robbed or attacked by armed assailants.

“There’s no way to know if the atrocious things that have happened to my friends could’ve been stopped if they had a gun, but at least they would’ve had a fighting chance,” Brashier said. “Just because we want the right to be armed does not mean we’re looking for a fight.”

A combination of learning how to safely use a gun and becoming a self-described “Constitutionalist” in support of state and individual rights led her to support the right to carry firearms, she said.

Brashier obtained a permit to carry a gun in October 2007. A few days later, she bought a Bersa .380-caliber pistol, nicknamed “The Thunder,” she said. Brashier said she is not a member of the National Rifle Association.

Her brother said he thinks his little sister is doing a great job.

“When you stand up for things, you got to bring it all or go home,” said Lupka, who said he belongs to several gun-ownership organizations.

CCAC students differed about whether concealed weapons should be allowed at the school, but all students interviewed said discussing the issue should be permitted on campus.

“A public college shouldn’t be allowed to prevent the formation of a club. They don’t pay our tuitions, we do. The only reason they get paid is because we’re here,” said Corry DiCarlo, 26, a Munhall resident and second-year computer science student.

Sara Harper, 18, of Brighton Heights, said permitting guns on campus would make students less safe.

“If someone felt threatened, they might feel the need to cause unnecessary violence,” said Harper, who is taking two classes at CCAC this summer.

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