Portland-based conservative talk radio host Lars Larson appeared on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 25 in Smith Memorial Student Union with a concealed firearm following Monday’s cancellation of an event hosted by the Portland State College Republicans celebrating the Second Amendment.
The College Republicans cancelled the event, at which Larson was scheduled to broadcast his show, after Larson received a letter signed by Cynthia J. Starke of the PSU Office of General Counsel informing him that while on campus, he would be required to comply with the university’s firearm policy and requesting that he affirmatively state he would not carry a firearm on campus. Larson refused to do so.
In his Thursday appearance, which he streamed on Facebook Live, Larson claimed the university’s policy violated Oregon state laws regarding firearms. “The university doesn’t have any right to do that,” Larson said. “They have no right to regulate possession, transfer or anything else involving firearms…except as expressly provided by statute…PSU has been unable to get any such statute passed.”
Larson said he was carrying a firearm during the live stream. “I have a [concealed handgun license] in my wallet,” he said, “that allows you to carry a pistol, and I’m carrying one today”.
College Republicans President Phillip Arola said he could not speak for Larson, but that he didn’t think he was prepared for the university’s reaction to his plans to carry a weapon on campus. “I think he wasn’t anticipating the legal threat because this has already been tried in Oregon courts before, and every single time the universities have lost,” Arola said. “They’ve proven time and time again to be in violation of the law.”
Arola went on to say he was optimistic that the situation would be resolved and the College Republicans would be able to invite Larson back to campus, but that it might mean threatening PSU with a lawsuit over its firearm policy.
In 2011, a three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals invalidated an Oregon University System firearm ban after a Western Oregon University student was arrested for carrying a firearm on campus in 2009. In its decision, the court stated the university’s ban “[exceeded] the agency’s authority.”
PSU’s firearm policy currently follows OUS policies adopted in 2012 prohibiting anyone except on-duty law enforcement officers, public safety officers and military program participants from carrying a firearm on university controlled or owned property, including buildings, dorms and sporting events. The policy does not prevent a CHL holder from walking armed through the park blocks.
The PSU Board of Trustees has not updated or modified the firearm policy since taking over university governance in 2014.
Arola and Larson both said College Republicans members were threatened with expulsion and de-funding for violating Student Activities and Leadership Programs Community Standards if Larson, as an invited guest by the student group, did not comply with the firearm policy. However, Arola said the alleged threats were not explicit. “In my experience, these kinds of threats are very veiled,” he said.
An email thread between a College Republicans member and PSU Academic and Pre-Professional Group adviser Virginia Luka published by conservative site The Gateway Pundit shows that Luka stated individual group leaders who assisted with planning the event may go through the conduct process with the Office of the Dean of Student Life. However, Luka did not suggest this until a member of the College Republicans explicitly asked about the consequences if they still allowed Larson to come to campus with his CHL and concealed firearm.
During his appearance, Larson also said the College Republicans told him the university threatened to discipline any student who participated in a separate livestream Larson offered to do in lieu of physically appearing for the Second Amendment event. However, an email dated Oct. 17 shows that Luka offered the College Republicans a list of alternatives to having Larson appear at the event in person, including “phone, Skype or Google Hangouts, or some other video conferencing type of program.”
Arola said the College Republicans found these alternate options to be insufficient substitutes for an in-person appearance. “The only real alternative PSU offered was teleconferencing in for a call…[but] you could do that any day of the week that Larson is broadcasting,” Arola said. “[Having him] live on campus, that’s a lot more impressive [and] an actual event.”
Arola said asking Larson to appear unarmed would have defeated the purpose of the event. “If we are going to be talking about the Second Amendment and advocating [for it], why would abdicating that right be productive?” he asked. “Wouldn’t that display weakness or cowardice?”
“One desirable outcome [might be] that…people would want to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Arola continued. “I don’t personally, but I do know people who do [carry concealed firearms] on [this] campus.”