Anita Sarkeesian, a critic of sexism in video games, has cancelled a campus speech scheduled tomorrow after the university declined to ban guns from the venue in response to a threat of a mass shooting.
There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence, so let’s break it down.
Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist media critic who has been the subject of an ongoing campaign of harassment since 2012. Late this summer, as the #GamerGate campaign was heating up, she was driven from her home by new, specific threats against her and her family.
Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at Utah State University tomorrow (Wednesday), but this morning several school officials received an emailed threat of “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if the speech went forward. The email’s author, who claimed to have a variety of guns and bombs in his possession, threatened a “Montreal Massacre style attack” on the speech and the campus Women’s Center — a reference to the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in which a male shooter killed fourteen women on a Montreal college campus in an explicitly anti-feminist attack.
The university announced Tuesday afternoon that the speech would be going forward with increased security, including a prohibition on “backpacks and any large bags.” This evening, however, it was announced that Sarkeesian had cancelled the talk.
So why did Sarkeesian cancel, given that she’s experienced similar threats in the past? Well, that goes back to a 2004 law that made Utah the first state in the country to require universities to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry loaded weapons on campus. Based on the university’s statement this evening, it appears that USU does not have the discretion under the law to ban weapons from a particular event, even in the face of a specific threat against the speaker.
I have to say, this is kind of incredible. That a public university would have the ability to ban backpacks from a speech but not loaded guns strikes me as something that even many concealed-carry advocates might blanch at.
It really is extraordinary.
Update | Here’s the relevant statutory language: “Unless specifically authorized by the Legislature by statute, a local authority or state entity may not enact, establish, or enforce any ordinance, regulation, rule, or policy pertaining to firearms that in any way inhibits or restricts the possession or use of firearms. … “Local authority or state entity” includes public school districts, public schools, and state institutions of higher education.”
Second Update | Sarkeesian just tweeted that that there were “multiple specific threats made stating intent to kill me & feminists” in advance of her USU speech.
Morning Update | USU confirms that “state law prevent[s] the university from keeping people with a legal concealed firearm permit from entering the event.” They say that “University police were prepared and had a plan in place to provide extra security measures at the presentation.” Sarkeesian tweeted last night that she requested “pat downs or metal detectors” at the venue, but that “because of Utah’s open carry laws police wouldn’t do firearm searches.”
It’s not clear whether state law (or state law as interpreted by USU administrators or police) prohibits searches for firearms at campus events. But again, even if such searches had been conducted, individuals with concealed carry permits would have been allowed to bring loaded weapons into the room. According to the Guardian, such permits are available to any state resident who is “at least 21 years old, mentally competent, and hasn’t been convicted of a felony or crimes involving violence, alcohol, narcotics or ‘moral turpitude.'”