A Community College of Allegheny County student said a dean told her she was breaking the law for trying to start a campus chapter of a national organization that supports students’ right to carry licensed, concealed weapons on campus.
Christine Brashier of Squirrel Hill said her free speech rights were violated when Yvonne Burns, dean of student development at the school’s Allegheny Campus, told her she was not allowed to distribute fliers about Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.
"She literally said, ‘You may want to discuss this topic, but the college does not – and you cannot make us,’" Brashier said Wednesday. "She said I was breaking the law by soliciting on campus, that I was trying to sell the idea of an organization."
CCAC spokesman David Hoovler said the college bans weapons on campus.
Burns was not available to talk to a reporter who visited the campus yesterday afternoon, Hoovler said. He said, however, "We do support the First Amendment and students’ rights to discuss any topic they want to talk about."
Burns could not be reached at home last night. CCAC President Alex Johnson was out of town, Hoovler said. Johnson could not be reached by phone.
Hoovler said he could not comment on the April conversation between Brashier and Burns because he was not there.
"We are not blocking the formation of any group," Hoovler said. "The student is free to go through the same procedures to set up an organization that any other student has to go through."
Brashier, 24, a first-year education student at the Allegheny Campus on the North Side, said she wants to be able to carry a gun on campus for safety. She said she was following CCAC’s procedures to form a campus organization when she was asked to meet with Burns. Brashier said she left crying because she thought she was about to be expelled.
"She said I already had one foot out of the school," Brashier said.
"The student who was advocating creation of the group has never faced any disciplinary action from CCAC and remains in good standing at the college," Hoovler said in a statement.
In the wake of the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which a gunman killed 32 people before killing himself, more than 20 states have considered legislation to allow concealed weapons on campus for protection, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization in Washington.
Twenty-four states prohibit concealed guns on campuses, and 15, including Pennsylvania, leave it up to the individual schools.
Robert L. Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, made Brashier’s cause public yesterday. Shibley said he acted because Johnson did not respond to an April 29 letter from his foundation.
That letter told Johnson that Brashier’s actions "in no way constituted solicitation, that CCAC is obligated to permit students to distribute literature and may not ban it on the basis of viewpoint or content, and that if CCAC recognizes student organizations at all, it must recognize an organization that supports concealed carry on campus."
Hoovler said the complex legal issues the foundation raised required that CCAC evaluate them before responding. "A full response" is forthcoming, he said.
"The fact that there are active chapters on dozens of other campuses should’ve been a major indicator that the group is allowed to exist," Shibley said. "I don’t think this was really that difficult a decision to make."
Sam Gupta, Concealed Carry’s state director and chair at the University of Pittsburgh, agreed.
"I’ve helped organize chapters on between 13 and 15 Pennsylvania campuses," said Gupta, 21, a senior studying economics who lives in Squirrel Hill.
"I did the same thing at Pitt and had no problem."
Twenty-two Pennsylvania colleges and universities have student leaders for Concealed Carry, according to its Web site. Area schools with chapters, in addition to Pitt, include Point Park University, IUP and California University, Gupta said.
Suzanne Lupka, 28, a former CCAC student who graduated on Saturday from Chatham University in Squirrel Hill, called Brashier’s situation "absolutely ridiculous."
"What makes me angry is that we had groups supporting the legalization of marijuana and everything else – no one violated their free speech," said Lupka, a Squirrel Hill resident who supports Brashier’s effort.