June 1st, 2010 Joshua Tucker, The Northern Light
The issue of whether carrying concealed firearms is safe, legal or prudent on UA campuses is at once alarming and divisive.
A protest of the regulation of firearms on UA campuses took place on Wednesday April 28. More than 20 activists from the Anchorage Second Amendment Taskforce gathered in front of the Lucy Cuddy Dining Hall before being escorted off campus by officers of UAA’s University Police Department (UPD).
George Hines, president of the Alaska Chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, along with three others, were issued Notices of Violation of University Regulation 02.09.020(a) by UPD for carrying a firearm on campus.
The University regulation states that UPD “shall enforce state and local laws in connection with offenses committed on the property on the University.” The notices of violation did not require the recipient’s signature as a citation would.
Trig Trigiano, UAA Director of Risk Management and Environmental Health and Safety, a self-described, “old biker,” watched the protest from the sidelines.
“It just looked like two Americans talking,” Trigiano said of the moment when Notices of Violation of University Regulation were issued.
The new sign on entrances to the Student Union read: “A licensed childcare facility operates on these premises. You commit the crime of misconduct involving weapons in the fifth degree if you knowingly posses a firearm on these premises.”When negotiations between Hines, UA President Mark Hamilton and the Board of Regents over the UA systems policy prohibiting guns on campus stalled in the weeks leading up to the protest, signs were placed on many UA building entrances. These signs came in addition to already existing signs banning guns.
The sign cites Alaska state law 11.61.215, which enumerates the exceptions to the law permitting concealed carry of firearms. One exception to the law prohibits carrying weapons “in a licensed child care facility.”
However, no state or federal law prohibits the carrying of concealed firearms on other parts of the UA campuses, so the legal foundation for the Board of Regents 1995 rulemaking prohibiting such behavior is questionable.
“State law gives the Board of Regents authority to govern its premises,” Hamilton wrote in a Compass piece published in the Anchorage Daily News. “The board has chosen to adopt reasonable firearms restrictions because our university campuses are complex, with many of the features of places in which firearms are outright illegal.”
In a concession made to Hines in negotiations, Hamilton agreed that it was legal for students to keep firearms in locked vehicles on campus.
Second Amendment Activists
Mark Franklin Campbell brought a High Point 9 mm pistol to campus. He is not a student and was among those given Notices of Violation by UPD.
“It was a weapon I was willing to lose,” Campbell said of the 9 mm. “I have combat weapons I am not willing to loose.”
Those given Notices of Violation will be subject to an Administrative hearing. UA’s General Counsel Roger Brunner notified Hines in a letter that the result of the hearing would likely be civil trespass due to the non-threatening nature of the protest and the protesters compliance in leaving the campus grounds.
“None of the men fit the description of an 18 to 22 year-old college student,” Acting UPD commander Lt. Rick Shell said of the four men who received notices of violation.
Raymond Waetjen, who does fit the description of a 18 to 22 year-old college student — a UAA student studying to be an art teacher, took a less visible role in the protest.
“I was wandering the trails with my Taurus 45, (an ACP Tactical hand gun with hollow point silver bullets),” Waetjen said. “They said they wanted some people on the trails.”
Waetjen attended a heavily armed gun rights rally April 19 in downtown Anchorage, where George Hines was recruiting armed youth for the April 28 protest at UAA.
April 19 is the anniversary of the opening shots of the American Revolution fired in the battles of Lexington and Concord. It is also the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing.
At the time, Hines refused to say when the protest at UAA he was planning would occur. He later stated that he organized it during finals week in hopes that UPD would follow its published plan for dealing with guns on campus and shut the campus down. Provoking this response during finals week would maximize disruption.
Waetjen carried three guns and a knife with a black hood partially obscuring his face on April 19. One of the guns he was carrying was an SKS semi-automatic machine gun with a banana clip.
“I have a certain disregard for the legalities on some issues. I carry my 45 around with me on campus,” Waetjen said. “I have had crack heads try to mug me. I live in Fairview, and sometimes you see moose on the trail. A bullet to the head from my 45 would stop a moose. That’s Alaska, it’s a little wild.”
Hines also spoke at an armed Second Amendment rally in Wasilla that drew 70 people on April 19 and later at meetings including one in Kenai, recruiting protesters for his planned protest at UAA. He claims support from the “highest levels” of the National Rifle Association.
Negotiations Break Down
“When you are all done arguing the emotion, I guarantee it’s going to come down to the same two things.” Hines said. “The University can’t protect me and guns are already present (on campus). For six weeks (UPD) has known I carry a concealed firearm on campus and they have done nothing. I don’t want to be arrested, but I am willing to be arrested.”
Hines confirmed that private negotiations with the University continued until hours before the protest. He also confirmed that it was the advice of his pro bono lawyer Stephen Merrill that convinced him not to go through with his earlier plan of refusing to leave campus and being arrested with other activists to increase the impact of the protest by filing false arrest suit against the UPD.
“(Hines) never said ‘I am not leaving.’ Now it is a strictly civil matter,” Merrill said after observing the protest.
The protest cost UPD at least $2,000 in additional overtime pay.
“If we don’t see a firearm or hear that someone is carrying, we do not have a legal cause to search them. If we suspect someone is carrying a firearm we can’t just go up and arrest them,” Shell said. “Just because George Hines is George Hines does not mean we are going to stop and frisk him every day. I think that at any given time there is someone carrying a gun in universities and in public schools. Where it becomes an issue is brandishing a fire arm or using it inappropriately.”
An anonymously written business card was carried by many of the protesters offering seven escalatory points for an armed protester to say if questioned by UPD.
Point three reads: “I will not leave since I am well with in my rights to bear a firearm in this manner on campus.”
Point seven reads: “If you choose continue with this illegal action, I want to inform you, that you will be personally named in the lawsuit, that I will bring forth, along with the university who hired you.”
Carole Tiger, a gray-haired Second Amendment activist, brought pistol shaped cookies with carefully painted frosting to the protest and tried to give them to UPD officers.
“They had no sense of humor whatsoever,” Tiger said. “We have as much right to carry a gun as they do.”
UAA freshman Eric Freadenthal observed the protest with curiosity.
“I can’t say that I support everyone carrying a gun on campus,” Freadenthal said, “but I’d take a firearms class because I don’t know how to fire a gun.”
Heather Aronno, president of the UAA chapter of the University Democrats is against guns on campus.
“We believe that the students in the UA system are entitled to a safe educational and living environment,” Aronno wrote in a statement for the University Democrats.
Arrono formed a Facebook group on the issue in the days leading up to the protest called “UAA Students for Campus Safety,” which now has 44 members.
USUAA Sen. Peter Finn wrote a strongly worded essay opposing guns on campus on his Facebook profile and received 20 comments from UAA students.
“I just don’t feel that guns are necessary on campus. I feel they would be a distraction in the classroom,” President of the UAA chapter of the College Republicans Ryan McKee said. “As a club we are divided on the issue. Some think like I do that guns shouldn’t be allowed on campus and some think on more constitutional lines that it’s a legal right being denied to students. If that is indeed the case, we are against that.”
Though Hines has yet to file a civil suit against UA for denying him his Second Amendment rights, he says he plans to as soon as he takes care of a few other things.
“I believe they’ve based their opinion asking me to leave on nothing more than emotion and politics. I spent a year trying to get them to put cameras in the parking lots. The protest was just one step forward,” Hines said.
Reviewing audio recordings of Hines hour-long confrontational phone conversation with Hamilton, his 30-minute speech to the Board of Regents meeting in Dillingham and the extended correspondence between Hines and Brunner, rising tensions become clear as Hines repeatedly threatens a protest.
On April 26, UAA Chancellor Fran Ulmer sought to reassure the UAA community two days before the protest.
“I do not want you to be surprised or unnecessarily alarmed,” Ulmer wrote. “Your safety is paramount at UAA and sharing timely information is one of the most effective ways to reinforce this message and help one another remain safe.”
UAA’s student government, which administers a significant budget, including $205,930 in student fees this year, skidded to a halt in mid October. Productivity was held hostage by personally charged vendettas over the application of the organization’s constitution and bylaws.
Since then, there have been charges of harassment, physical intimidation and falsifying documents. Two senators have resigned in protest and UPD presence was necessary to keep order at the Feb. 5 meeting according to USUAA President Michaela Hernandez. In recent weeks, the wounds have begun to heal. Yet, more than a month into the semester, the committees which do the lion’s share of the organization’s work have not been formed.
The main project going forward is lobbying the state legislature to include more needs based scholarships in Governor Parnell’s proposed merit based scholarship program. USUAA Government Relations Director Nick Moe lead students in making hundreds of phone calls to state senators and representatives on the issue Feb. 18. On Feb. 19, 14 students left on a five-day lobbying trip to Juneau.
The bone of contention that sparked the hostility within USUAA was the accumulation of seven total absences by Senator Peter Finn, a junior double majoring in political science and economics. Under article seven clause one of USUAA’s bylaws more than seven absences means a senator automatically losses their seat. Finn’s expulsion ignited countless hours of argument over the nuances of the absence policy and whether it was being manipulated to advance personal agendas.
“Even if it hurts people’s feelings, no matter what, we have to follow this contract (the constitution and bylaws) or we don’t deserve the student fees,” Senator Kevin Vanderwall said, a junior majoring in accounting who was a leader in the fight to remove Finn.
Senator Sam Frederick, a junior double majoring in electrical engineering and computer science agrees.
“Definitely some people thought it was a blatant abuse that they brought (Finn) back, that’s what I felt,” Frederick said.
The storm has centered on Finn, but many students say they have been hurt.
“I feel (the controversy has been) really affecting people in a pretty personal way that’s just not positive for the organization or for the people who are most severely effected, Peter (Finn) in particular,” Hernandez said.
In January, most of the members of USUAA attended a retreat specifically addressing issues of civility and mutual respect.
“There were a few people that were attacked: I was attacked, Catherine (Helle) was attacked. Allison Murrell has been attacked as well,” Finn said.
Fearing harassment on February 5, Finn asked UPD Officer Perry Morgan to attend a USUAA meeting with him.
“I’m not going to be intimidated into leaving,” Finn said.
Meeting transcripts reveal a disorderedly and volatile atmosphere. After attending just one such meeting, new Senator Doug McManis, a junior majoring in journalism, resigned.
“The atmosphere of hostility and indignity displayed by the two senators in the gallery (at the Dec. 5 meeting) gave me a clear picture of the semester or year to come. Their tactics for getting what they want are fear tactics. It’s a disgusting circus and I can’t be a part of it.” McManis wrote in his letter of resignation, adding comments in an interview.
Senator Helle also resigned when animosity continued to boil over.
“I remember one meeting sitting there and wondering if my life was in danger in any way, and it was after that, that I decided to resign,” Helle said. “Not because I didn’t want to fulfill the needs of the students at UAA, but because I didn’t feel the organizations was equipped in its current state to assist me in representing any student voices . . . It was a very real fear, it becomes pretty clear when you see a police officer being brought to a meeting. I think a lot of people felt these threats at the time.”
Though she sought help from the Dean of Students office, Helle “didn’t feel much support from them.” She wrote a harassment report but after hearing how the Dean of Students office planned to handle it she decided not to file it.
“I honestly was fearful that if I said anything or that if reported any cases of harassment the recourse I needed wouldn’t be given to me and I would only put myself in deeper trouble,” Helle said.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affair Bruce Schultz has been monitoring the discord within USUAA by going to meetings, addressing the assembly and meeting with individual senators.
“Certainly I would hope that anytime a student feels harassed that they file a complaint . . . (though) sometimes a formal complaint to the Dean of Students office is not the best avenue to peruse an issue,” Schultz said.
Physical intimidation became a central issue not only in meetings, but also on campus, particularly around USUAA’s offices. Finn and Murrell allege that Senator Sean McGrane habitually sat outside the USUAA offices taking pictures through the window between mid October and the end of classes in December of 2009.
“His goal was to make us feel uncomfortable; like ‘hey I’m watching you guys, I’m catching you doing all your bad stuff and I’m going to come after you with this,’” Finn said.
McGrane disagrees and contests Finn’s claim.
“As for the taking pictures – no, I did not take pictures. (Finn) believes people are out to get him, and I just happen to be the target,” McGrane said.
Another divisive tactic has been the filing of anonymous ethics complaints against Finn and Murrell.
“(When) someone thinks you are a shameful, wrongful, person, that hurts,” Murrell said.
Additional incidents include the unauthorized entry of a former senator into USUAA offices when the offices were closed. A former senator has allegedly admitted to rifling through current senators’ mailboxes in search of evidence of falsified absence paperwork.
“It was not a good situation for a very long time,” Murrell said. “I just don’t want to sit here and basically waste everyones money. . . by not advocating for student interest. That’s what we are here to do, and if we are not going to do that then we need to dissolve and return all that money.”
Hernandez has convened an independent ethics review board whose members are not a part of USUAA to hear complaints and determine who may have violated USUAA’s constitution and bylaws and the student code of conduct, though their report is not due for weeks.
The one thing every senator The Northern Light spoke with agrees on is the need for a constitutional convention, with engaged student involvement, to resolve the ambiguities in the organization’s governing documents that have led to such conflict. Plans are going forward to hold the convention later in the semester.
In a measured bid to restore order, Hinkley Cahill, Assistant Director of Student Life and Leadership, addressed the USUAA assembly at the beginning of their Feb. 12 meeting. She asked senators to “recognize the motivations of everyone around the table and equally respect those motivations.”
Helle contends that there are only “a very small number of people that are problematic to the functioning of the organization.”
Both McManis and Helle have returned to USUAA since tensions have begun to ease. McManis has joined the election board and Helle collected petition signatures last week to resume her role as a senator. She was sworn in again on Friday