On Friday afternoon, a small crowd of activists assembled in the parking lot of Ohio Stadium. Clad in black and camouflage, all with pistols or AR-15s at their hips and one waving a large Pan-African flag, the small group walked to the Oval where they stood and engaged with passersby in a dialogue about gun regulation in America.
The group of about 10 people, which was not operating under a certain name and did not belong to a specific organization, was gathered by Kendall Arroyo, a veteran Air Force response force leader and open-carry firearm activist.
“I’m the one organizing this, but we actually don’t have an organization,” Arroyo said. “These are just friends, activists and people who have done these walks before that we just reached out to. We’re not part of an organization or anything like that.”
Arroyo has a concealed-carry permit and carries a firearm with him wherever he is legally allowed. He said that he’s been at events at the Ohio Statehouse before, but most of his events try to engage college campuses and the communities within them.
“Unfortunately, college campuses are an environment where a lot of assaults, robberies, sexual harassment and things like that take place, and current [rules] state that students and faculty are not allowed to carry,” Arroyo said. “If that were to change, we might actually see a decrease in those kind of crimes.”
Ohio State is a public university that is obligated to allow demonstrations of this nature. Campus security was warned in advance, and they were present during the walk and on the Oval. However, public discourse was able to flow freely, as many students stopped to speak with members of the gun-wielding group.
Skyler Jackim, a sophomore in anthropology and native to Chicago, arrived at the Ohio Stadium parking lot with a sign that read, “My right to life, liberty and happiness beats your right to bear arms.”
“I went to March For Our Lives, I already have my sign, I already care about this issue, and I don’t care if I’m the only one out here,” Jackim said. “Being from the suburbs of Chicago, I’ve seen what gun violence does to communities and I’ve seen what it’s done to schools across the nation, and I think we need better gun regulation.”
Some people who stopped to interact with the activists were not anti-firearm, but did not agree with allowing open carrying on college campuses.
Third-year economics and finance major Kevin Gramajo stopped by the group of activists because he had heard about it and wanted to check it out. Gramajo said he grew up in a rough environment in downtown Cleveland and had been shot at before, and did not believe that guns had a role on college campuses.
“I don’t feel like I need guns at Ohio State. Maybe in the community, but it’s very different than being on a college campus where the average time for police to show up is less than a minute,” Gramajo said. “I’m pro-allowing people to have guns, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m pro-open carry or just having them so readily available. They argue that mental health screening tests shouldn’t be necessary when I think that they should be.”
Another point that Arroyo and his group were trying to make is that second-amendment protections applies to Americans of all races. Everyone who carried a firearm during today’s open-carry walk was black.
Arroyo said this was intentional and was directly in response to a letter to the editor published in The Lantern in December 2016, written by the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Department and signed by 12 professors.
The letter was published shortly after the December 2016 open-carry walk and addressed to President Drake and the Ohio State administration, and took issue with the open-carry walk that happened on campus just weeks after the violent incident on campus in November 2016 and was comprised of only white gun owners.
Specifically, the letter noted the people of color who are victims of gun violence every day were not present in the walk, and stated that they believed a double standard was at play, where minorities would surely not be allowed to perform a similar demonstration with firearms on campus.
“If you want to know the God-honest truth, we read the letter [to the editor] and we noticed that they basically said, ‘We don’t think a bunch of black people could be able to get away with something like this,’” Arroyo said. “This is not supposed to be a racial thing. We’re talking about second amendment rights for every law-abiding American citizen. Our race should not have to be a factor at all, and society says that we’re either supposed to be gunned down or incarcerated right now. And we’re here to show that that’s not the case, and now I invite them to figure out their next excuse.”