Tuten began speaking of her Second Amendment rights about a week ago, when members of the university’s marching band kneeled during the national anthem to protest police shootings of African Americans. After the university’s chancellor issued a statement supporting the students’ right to express themselves, Tuten sent him an email saying she, too, will exercise her Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“If the university is going to allow people to break rules in the name of constitutional rights, all rights should be supported,” Tuten said in an email to The Washington Post. “This is where I come in…My argument is that the university should support all rights.”
The East Carolina University Police Department contacted Tuten to tell her that what she planned to do is illegal.
“While I can appreciate Dr. Tuten’s intent to bring attention to constitutional discussions, carrying a handgun on campus property in a manner in which she described is currently prohibited by state law,” Interim Police Chief Jason Sugg said in a statement, according to WNCT. “Based on the most recent information given to us, we are hopeful that Dr. Tuten has reconsidered her intended action.”
Tuten has since backed off from her original statements and hasn’t carried a gun on campus. She said she doesn’t want to break the law, but she’s started advocating to local and state representatives about allowing people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses in North Carolina.
The furor over constitutional rights at East Carolina University started on Oct. 1, when 19 members of the university’s marching band kneeled as the national anthem was being played during a football game. Fans responded by booing and spitting at the band members, who had to have a police escort when they left the game, according to the News & Observer. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) also weighed in, calling the protest “extremely inappropriate.”
“They have every right to express their First Amendment rights outside the stadium,” but not on campus, McCrory said, the News & Observer reported.
In response to the East Carolina University protest, Chancellor Cecil Staton released a statement supporting their rights to free speech while also constraining future demonstrations if necessary.
“I will not tolerate the mistreatment of any student, and anyone who perpetrates such mistreatment will be dealt with swiftly,” Staton said. “However, when necessary, I will ensure that public safety is preserved and maintained for the benefit of all who are a part of our campus. The university has a responsibility, if necessary, to place reasonable constraints on the time, the place and the manner of expression or conduct, but within those constraints, the university respects and will defend that right.”
Former presidents of the university’s Black Student Union also have expressed their support for the band members, pointing to the school’s history of student-led protests and movements, WNCT reported.
Tuten disagreed that the protest falls within the students’ First Amendment rights, saying it happened while they were acting as university representatives during a university event.
“They could have chosen many ways to protest as individuals, but they did not,” Tuten said.
The protest at East Carolina University isn’t an isolated incident.
Last month, five members of the Southern Methodist marching band kneeled in protest while playing the national anthem ahead of a 33-3 loss to Texas Christian in Dallas. The protest happened on the same night that the university was honoring police and first responders killed in action.
The same month, during the game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., three players of the Nebraska Cornhuskers kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.
The protests started after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem to raise awareness of police violence against people of color.