Commentary

There’s no place lovelier in the spring than the Belknap Campus of the University of Louisville. As beautifully envisioned by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1920s, the flowering trees and burgeoning gardens provide a place to enjoy the outdoors after long gray winter months of study.

Students need this. And as the weeks approach Derby, there’s plenty of tension, too: Exams approach, papers are due and the grind of a year’s world of study reaches its mind-numbing end.

What students do not need is the added fear of gun violence on campus. That’s particularly true right now, as the wave of homicides continues to build. The death of a U of L student in a shooting at the Tim Faulkner Gallery in Portland earlier this month has brought tragedy home to Belknap Campus.

Nevertheless, on Friday, advocates of “open carry” plan to exercise their rights by parading around the perimeter of the campus, brandishing all manner of firearms.

Guns aren’t allowed on the campus, and in the wake of tragedies in recent years like the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, that’s a good policy. The only responsible policy.

Campus administrators issued an alert to students about the demonstration.

“Participants may be carrying a variety of firearms, including long rifles, pistols and replicas of rifles,” it read. “The route could include Third Street, Cardinal and University boulevards, and Floyd and Brook streets. The Dean of Students Office, U of L Police and Louisville Metro Police are aware of the activities.”

I have no doubt about the demonstrators’ freedom to express their speech in peaceful protests. However, I question their timing, their choice of locations, and most of all their inability to understand the threat they imply by their presence.

I am reminded of the times in the 1960s when hooded Ku Klux Klan members “peacefully” marched in while African-Americans demonstrated for basic civil rights. The Klan knew that their presence was a vivid reminder of bodies swinging from tree branches or drowned in Mississippi riverbeds.

I am also reminded of the spring of 1970, when at the end of my sophomore year at U of L, demonstrations occurred over the U.S. war in Vietnam. On May 4, just up the road at Kent State University in Ohio, national guardsmen fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others.

The peaceful demonstration ended in a bloodbath. The reaction on America’s campuses was so forceful that U of L shut down. Final exams were even cancelled.

The point of remembering this event, now nearly a half-century ago, is that when firearms are injected into any kind of event, tragedy can strike — whether it be a church where people are praying; a campus where kids are studying, sunbathing or playing Frisbee; or a nightclub where music’s playing.

“The purpose of the walk is to inform and engage college students and the public about the right to keep and bear arms, including discussing how those rights are diminished by various laws — for instance, by making college campuses Criminal Empowerment Zones,” organizers of the Friday march state.

Americans are all too aware of the impact of firearms and the damage they can do. If gun owners really want others to respect their rights, they should be more prudent in flaunting their right to openly brandish them. Turning Belknap Campus into Dodge City is not the way to do that.