A woman's photos celebrating her recent graduation from Kent State University have stirred up a social media uproar thanks to the unusual accessory she chose for the occasion — a high-powered, semi-automatic rifle.
Kaitlin Bennett, 22, wanted to make a statement after graduating so she shared pictures of herself on campus with an AR-10 slung over her shoulder and holding a graduation cap emblazoned with the words "come and take it."
"Now that I graduated from @KentState, I can finally arm myself on campus," Bennett, who earned a degree in biology, tweeted Sunday. "I should have been able to do so as a student — especially since 4 unarmed students were shot and killed by the government on this campus."
Bennett was referring to the infamous 1970 incident at the university in which Ohio Nation Guardsmen opened fire on student protesters, killing four and wounding nine. She was also voicing a wide-held belief that the Second Amendment was intended as means for Americans to defend themselves against the government.
Bennett, who earned a degree in biology, is a gun rights activist and, according to her Twitter bio, a founder of the Kent State chapter of the libertarian group "Liberty Hangout." In addition to opposing gun control measures and advocating for a right to carry on campus, a recent post on the group's philosophy argues that "taxation is theft" and, "voting is violence and democracy is the oppression of those who dwell within the minority opinion."
In her graduation post on Facebook, Bennett wrote, "3 meetings with student conduct, 2 expulsion attempts, and a petition to get my student group kicked off campus ... all for nothing. I graduated & the left did not win."
The university bars students, staff, and third parties doing business with Kent State from possessing deadly weapons. But visitors are not prohibited from carrying firearms on the public university's grounds, although they can't take them into buildings.
"I'm glad that my photos are making headlines, because my intent was to start a discussion about gun rights on college campuses," Bennett told USA TODAY. "At Kent State in particular, guests may protect themselves with firearms, but students cannot, and I find that insulting."
Bennett's photos provoked strong reactions from many social media users. Some accused her of exercising "white privilege," citing incidents in which African-Americans have been killed by police officers who feared they were carrying a firearm.
"If a black man had walked around like this dozens of Police would have been called and he would have been shot dead on the spot. Oh the power of white privilege," wrote one Twitter user wrote in response to Bennett's post.
In response, Bennett suggested such critics "speak to the BLACK officer who was with us the entire time."
Others were skeptical of her theory that it could help defend her against the National Guard and some felt because of Kent State's history, the campus was an inappropriate place for Bennett to stage her photos.
To those who asked her why she is carrying a rifle that appears to be almost as big as she is, Bennett responded, "because it's super cute with my dress & heels."
Many were supportive of Bennett's message and thanked her for defending Second Amendment rights.
But several social media users became insulting and threatening toward Bennett.
"I have no words. All because of my photo with a rifle promoting my right to defend myself. The left is out of control," she wrote in a Facebook post in response to one Twitter user's threat. Twitter evidently suspended the Twitter user's account.
"Gun control advocates are trying to call me violent for my graduation picture that promotes the right to self-defense, meanwhile I'm getting threatening messages like this in my inbox from these very same people," she said in a tweet.
When asked about the threats against her, Bennett told WKYC-TV, Cleveland, "I carry [a gun]. So I'm not nervous."
Contributing: Lynna Lai, WKYC-TV, Cleveland