North Carolina professor contemplates carrying on campus

A while back, Tracy Tuten, a marketing professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina came to the attention of news media for saying that she would carry her handgun on campus in response to nineteen members of the school’s band members kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.  The student protest came as a reaction to police shootings nationwide.  Perhaps they had the recent death of Keith Lamont Scott followed by violent protests in nearby Charlotte in mind, though that wasn’t included in the reports.

In Tuten’s view, if the students are allowed to exercise the right to express themselves that is enumerated in the First Amendment, she should have her right, guaranteed by the Second Amendment, to carry a firearm for self-defense respected by the university.  According to her statements to the press, Tuten was the target of stalking and threats by a student several years ago and got a carry license to protect herself.  She has written a letter to the university’s chancellor, Cecil Staton, regarding all of this, but had not heard back from him.

Chancellor Staton released a statement on the student protests in which he carefully tries to stand on both sides of the fence without getting his undercarriage scratched.  He says he recognizes the right of students to express themselves peacefully and responsibly, while at the same time talking about the university’s respect for the military and the need for safety.  He also celebrates ECU’s history of educating medical professionals and teachers who serve rural communities and his campus’s diversity.

Tuten originally declared her intention to carry, but after being advised by the campus police, she has changed her mind.  North Carolina law does prohibit carry—whether open or concealed—on campus even for people who are licensed, though leaving guns locked in a vehicle in the parking lot is permitted.

The protests by athletes during the playing of the national anthem has drawn the fire of many conservatives, centered initially on San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.  Anecdotally, it does seem that fans of American football lean to the right, especially with regard to respecting the military and law enforcement.  There is a suggestive reason for this, as George Carlin pointed out in his routine about the differences between football and baseball. Football, symbolically and literally, is structured as warfare, and there’s a potential sympathy between fans of the game and supporters of our military policy.  With that in mind, however, we also have to recognize that one of the things that the military protects is our basic rights, and that must include the right not to participate in the singing of the national anthem.

It’s important to note that the national anthem itself wasn’t with us at the time when the Constitution came into effect.  The lyrics that we use—the first verse, anyway—were, of course, written by Francis Scott Key in reaction to the British attack on Baltimore in the War of 1812, but the anthem only became official after a vote in Congress in 1931.  Just as with the Pledge of Allegiance, while U.S. law has a statement of etiquette during the playing of the anthem, no one not in military service is required to follow those rules.  And this is a good thing in a free society.  Enforced conformity—whether we’re talking about saluting national emblems, expressing political opinions, or compelling people to show support for something that they, in fact, oppose—is the opposite of liberty.

At the same time, Professor Tuten ought to be able to defend herself, on campus or away from it.  Too often, supporters of one right here fail to support the other right, but without either protest or self-defense, no right is safe.  As I’ve said in this column many times, rights stand or fall together.  The divide-and-conquer approach that pits one interest group against another will only lead to losses by all.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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