Gun advocate Larry Pratt gave a presentation titled “Guns are a Human Right” on Nov. 9 in Textor 101 after he was invited to campus by the IC Republicans and Ithaca College chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty. Just outside, students lined up in Textor Hall in protest, with signs that displayed the names of mass shooting victims; as the event started, protesters left to attend a teach-in in Williams Hall.
Pratt’s visit to Ithaca College’s campus was the campus community’s first notable foray into the territory of controversial speakers. Students on college campuses across the nation have erupted in violent protest when far-right speakers have been brought to their schools to speak. For example, students at University of California–Berkeley set fires and broke windows when alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to visit their campus. While Yiannopoulos is admittedly more inflammatory than Pratt, the fact remains that protests surrounding visits from far-right figures have gotten out of hand in a violent manner.
Because of the way that students across the nation have reacted to speakers similar to Pratt — Pratt has said that the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 was an inside job conducted by the Department of Justice — it was uncertain how students would react to his presence on campus. But the silent, peaceful protest conducted by students was poignant and impactful, and the teach-in allowed a productive discussion to be facilitated.
For their teach-in, the student protesters established rules instituting speaking limits and an agreement for mutual respect and avoiding interrupting others. There was no yelling,
name-calling or violence of any kind. When two libertarian students presented a pro-gun viewpoint, students were able to engage in a valuable way with those they did not agree with.
The students who remained at the main event and questioned Pratt on his ideas pushed back against his views in a productive way, and the conversation at the teach-in was well-moderated.
The protesters on Nov. 9 have set an example for what student protesters should do when a controversial speaker comes to campus. Their voices were heard even though they were silent, and they allowed for a constructive conversation during both the teach-in and the speaker’s presentation. For that, they should be commended and used as a template for future protests.