Broward County

Gun-rights activist denied access to Parkland school plans to speak off campus

President Donald Trump shakes hands with moderator Charlie Kirk, during a Generation Next White House forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, March 22, 2018.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with moderator Charlie Kirk, during a Generation Next White House forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, March 22, 2018. AP

A conservative activist invited and then prevented from speaking at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High will bring his gun-rights message to an off-campus location later this month, a student organizer said on Friday.

The turning away of prominent pundit Charlie Kirk, seen in some right-wing circles as the latest example of school campuses censoring conservative ideas, was not based on ideological biases, according to a spokesperson for Broward County Public Schools.

"The school’s administration has met with the student organizers and advised them that non-school sponsored, student-initiated guest speaker assemblies/meetings are not permitted to take place on campus," wrote spokesperson Cathleen Brennan in an email to the Miami Herald.

Kirk, 24, is the founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative group that aims to "push back against intolerance and bias against conservatives in higher education," according to a mission statement posted to its website. His group, which claims to have representation on more than 1,200 high school and college campuses nationwide, regularly inks sponsorship deals with the National Rifle Association.

Kirk, whose speaking engagements at college campuses have drawn protests, implied his politics played a role in his rejection from the Parkland high school.

"It seems there has been a decision to not allow me on campus," he wrote on Twitter. "However, I bet if I was advocating for gun confiscation things would be quite different."

The invitation came from Marjory Stoneman Douglas juniors Kyle Kashuv and Patrick Petty, two conservative students whose politics have served as counterweights to the more publicized sentiment favoring gun control that emerged from student leaders at the school following the Valentine's Day shooting. Petty's sister Alaina was one of the 17 students and faculty members who died when a former student smuggled an AR-15 onto campus and began firing inside hallways and through classroom windows.

Kashuv, who announced Kirk's invitation on Wednesday and was almost immediately criticized by his fellow students for politicizing the tragedy, said Kirk's speaking engagement will be tentatively scheduled for April 24 at an off-campus location yet to be determined but hopefully in Parkland.

"He wants to discuss ways to save lives without violating [the Second Amendment] and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that," the 16-year-old said on Twitter. "Why not go to the lecture and argue with him during the Q&A part?"

Kashuv seemed to believe school administration was engaging in viewpoint discrimination by refusing to let Kirk speak but inviting Miami Heat basketball player Dwyane Wade to campus on March 7, where he met with organizers of the gun-control-focused March for Our Lives that consumed major cities across the country on March 24.

"Apparently, unless you're @DwyaneWade to promote gun control, you're not allowed in MSD," Kashuv tweeted. "We will be holding the event with @charliekirk11 off campus."

Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old junior at the school who helped organize the March for Our Lives, said there was a "clear difference" between Wade's visit and Kirk's invitation. Wade, Kasky tweeted, "came from the good of his heart to cheer people up" and Kirk "just wants to come to a school that got shot up and talk about how great guns are."

April Schentrup, whose daughter Carmen died during the shooting, agreed that Kirk's campus visit would be in poor taste.

"As a mother of one of the murdered victims at MSD, I urge you to reconsider holding your [meeting] at another location," she tweeted on Thursday. "Please do not disrespect our situation. We struggle enough each day as it is."

Andrew Patrick, the media director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the school's policy against student-sponsored visitors isn't biased against conservatives, because he's been denied, too.

Earlier this month, he was invited by students to meet with them on campus and was subsequently told he could not. He accused Kirk and his supporters of "trying to generate controversy" by turning the denial into a political message.

"This student body has gone through so much," Patrick said. "To add something like this is just unfair to the community."