KU Prof's Tweet Attacking NRA Was Misguided, but Response to the Tweet Was Offensive

The University of Kansas put journalism professor David W. Guth on indefinite administrative leave after writing a tweet that said the National Rifle Association bore responsibility for the Navy Yard shooting on Monday, September 16, that resulted in 12 deaths.

"Blood is on the hands of the #NRA," Guth tweeted the day of the tragedy. "Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters."

The Associated Press reported that the tweet received little attention until Campus Reform.org, a conservative college news website, posted the story on Thursday, prompting a visceral response by the NRA and calls to dismiss Guth from Kansas legislators. The University of Kansas then suspended him.

Guth chose the wrong shooting to criticize the NRA. It is unlikely that even strict gun laws would have prevented the Navy Yard killings. The gunman, Aaron Alexis, who reportedly suffered from mental illness, used a shotgun that he bought legally after passing a federal background check. While federal law prohibits the mentally ill from buying guns, Alexis was never declared mentally ill by a judge.

The NRA characterized Guth's tweet as "hate speech." The organization said that he was calling for violence against the NRA, its members, and their children. Guth did not say that. He was inferring that the NRA and its members would think differently about gun laws if their children were among the victims of a mass shooting.

Such misinterpretations are common in the 140-character world of Twitter, often provoking hostile responses, which then provoke even more hostile responses. On Saturday, CNN published an article called, "Twitter: The Angriest Site on the Internet?" that said "anger, like a potent virus, spreads the fastest and most widely of all" emotions.

This explains, in part, the level of outrage directed against Guth, who has received a barrage of physical threats on his Twitter and email accounts.

The response to Guth's statement demonstrates once again that Second Amendment zealots believe that the amendment supersedes everything else in the Constitution. Guth's attack on the NRA may have been unnecessarily provocative, but it was protected by the First Amendment. Guth's First Amendment rights are no less sacrosanct than a gun owner's Second Amendment rights.

The Kansas State Rifle Association called for Guth's immediate dismissal. So did the organization's supporters in the Kansas legislature, including Rep. Brett Hildabrand, who urged the university to take "appropriate action" against Guth.

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said he was "appalled" by Guth's tweet. He called for the university to dismiss Guth. "Wishing death and damnation upon parents and their children is reprehensible and not befitting an employee of such a distinguished university," Bruce said.

The Associated Press reported that Bruce has received $2,500 in campaign contributions from the NRA, including $750 in 2012. In addition, the Associated Press said that Hildabrand received $500 in contributions last year from the Kansas State Rifle Association.

Furthermore, Kansas University chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little compromised the long tradition of free expression on college campuses by giving in to political pressure. She announced Guth's suspension "in order to prevent disruptions to the learning environment."

We can't very well allow free speech on college campuses, can we?

Guth said he will not apologize for his tweet.

"I don't apologize for it because I'm not saying in the tweet that I want anybody harmed," he said. He added that he respected the NRA's "First Amendment rights and it would be nice if they would respect mine. And, by the way, I even respect their Second Amendment rights."