There were few signs of unrest during Wednesday evening’s Kent State University visit from Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, as gun-rights supporters turned out for a promised open-carry display to counter the former U.S. congressman’s outspoken push for gun restrictions.
Ron Jones of the Akron-Canton Proud Boys, along with a handful of its members and its supporters, stood across from the crowd of supporters awaiting O’Rourke. On a table in front of Jones sat a mix of rifles and smaller firearms, all secured with metal rope and padlocks. A sign on the front asked onlookers, "Which one of these should be banned?"
O’Rourke recently presented a proposal for a mandatory gun buyback program during the third Democratic presidential debate. Kent State alumnus Brett Pucillo commented on a Record-Courier Facebook post that people should join him in an open carry demonstration at the event. Jones said the Proud Boys did not work with Pucillo, but that they supported his efforts and wanted to do something similar.
Because the outdoor area of Kent State University is considered public property, Jones said, the Proud Boys were able to demonstrate close to the crowd awaiting O’Rourke.
Jones said they were going to set up wherever they were allowed to because they did not have a permit. They chose to set up in the closest spot that didn’t impede foot traffic.
Though they were drawn to the site because of Pucillo, Jones said the group would likely demonstrate at the rallies of most Democratic candidates because most have expressed ideas regarding "common-sense gun reform."
"When people talk about ‘common-sense gun reform,’ they talk about the tactical-styled guns with the foregrips or whatever they find scary about it without any actual knowledge about the gun," Jones said.
The sign on the front of the table asked what it did, he said, as a way to draw people in and educate them about guns.
He indicated a black polymer rifle on the table. Discussions about bans mainly focus on tactical-style guns, Jones said. He added, however, that the gun on the table shoots smaller caliber rounds than the wooden rifles next to it.
"We’re out here, pretty much, just to spark conversation with people," Jones said. "We’re hoping people from their side will come up and talk with us a little bit and maybe bridge the gap a little bit."
Throughout the event, the atmosphere remained largely civil and rarely advanced beyond uncomfortable glares. Gun toters and silent, sign-holding supporters of President Donald Trump stood among the throngs of O’Rourke fans while the Democratic presidential candidate spoke.
Gavin, a Kent State student who asked that his last name not be shared, said he agreed with some of what O’Rourke said. However, he considers himself independent and his views vary with each issue. When visiting the Proud Boys’ table, Gavin expressed that gun rights should be protected but that background checks are important.
Though some limited their expression of displeasure of the gun toters to uncomfortable stares, others did not. A handful of people were gathered at the Proud Boys table when someone ran behind the table, dumping a pink, watery substance — apparently a milkshake — on the demonstrators. One onlooker, along with two officers on bicycles, took off after the person who fled.
Everyone appeared to be OK aside from the discomfort of having a milkshake dumped on them. The guns were mostly untouched by the substance and later cleaned by a member of the Proud Boys. Kent State University Police did not say whether charges were filed.
A picture on the Kent Wired Twitter account shows the alleged milkshake thrower being arrested.
Krista Kano contributed to this report.
Reporter Kaitlyn McGarvey can be reached at email@example.com or 330-298-1127. Follow her on Twitter at @ktlynmcgrvy.