GMU Warns Students of ‘Armed Protestors’ Ahead of CNN’s Closed-Press Town Hall on Gun Control

A semi-automatic handgun and a holster are displayed at a North Little Rock, Ark., gun shop
Holstered handgun / AP
January 7, 2016

Students of George Mason University received an email alert from the university’s interim chief of police ahead of Thursday evening’s CNN town hall on gun control with President Barack Obama warning there could be protestors carrying firearms outside the event.

Police Chief Thomas Longo warned students that due to the sensitive nature of the town hall that campus police expects protestors, some carrying firearms.

In a screenshot of the email provided to the Washington Free Beacon, Longo said that while it is lawful for a person to carry firearms in public outdoor spaces on the GMU campus, students and faculty are not allowed to carry firearms into buildings regardless if they have a legal permit to concealed carry.

A peaceful protest has been organized through Facebook event for Thursday’s closed press town hall. Devon Flynn, a senior at GMU and organizer of the protest, told the Free Beacon he had contacted the university to see if tickets were available. The university then told him there were no tickets available and that the event was strictly reserved for CNN. He was told that he should contact CNN as well as the White House.

"Both the White House and CNN were very unhelpful and did not provide me with any details," Flynn said.

Flynn said town hall tickets should be available to the public, not for hand-picked members of the audience. He added that he expects Thursday’s protest to be peaceful.

"What made me organize this protest was when I was listening to President Obama's speech, he talked about having bipartisan support for gun control so that we can come together and find a solution," Flynn said. "He talked about all the shootings that have taken place at school such as Virginia Tech, Columbine, and other places, and then is hosting a town hall that was only free to invite-only people."

Some of the protestors who said they were attending brought up the idea of openly carrying their firearms but have decided against it.

A counter-protest for those supporting President Obama's gun control measures is also scheduled for Thursday evening.

The Free Beacon reached out to CNN about attending the town hall and was told the event was invitation only and closed to outside press.

Vivek Subramanyam, a law student at the Arlington, Va., campus of GMU, also received the email from the interim campus police chief. Subramanyam said that he was uncomfortable knowing that his campus was a "gun-free zone."

"We get emails from the school's administration about the politically ‘sensitive’ stuff, and it's always pretty hyperbolic. Around mid-November, Ángel Cabrera, GMU's president, issued out a speech and a half about some racially offensive image in a dorm, and he acted like Mason was arming to become the next Mizzou and Yale," Subramanyam said.

Mike Sandler, director of strategic communications at GMU, told the Free Beacon that the message from the campus police chief was to let the community know that they were aware of the potential for protest and to remind the community of the university's policies and Virginia law.