Opinion: What’s With the Guns?


Several inoperable guns were displayed during a National Guard recruitment event on campus. (Photo Credit: Randolph Anderson)

Randolph Anderson, Staff Writer

In the early afternoon of Sept. 27, the Connecticut National Guard hosted a recruitment booth at Central Connecticut State University. At first glance, this looked like your typical military recruitment tent — the type decked out with a pullup bar, some free rubber bracelets, and drawstring backpacks. However, these National Guard Soldiers had something a bit unorthodox to show off at their booth: assault rifles. While walking across campus, I stumbled upon this booth between the Elihu Burritt Library and the Student Center. I was immediately thrown off guard by the presence of three assault rifles on the booth table. Shocked, I exclaimed: “What’s with the guns?” A soldier running the booth mustered a smile and replied, “This is some of our… equipment.”

Gun violence and mass shootings have never been so prominent within the United States. Additionally, school shootings are becoming more frequent. It’s also worth mentioning that Newtown, Connecticut is 45 minutes down I-84, and the state will soon mark the sobering 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.

You may recall an instance in 2013 when CCSU went into lockdown due to reports of a shooter on campus. David Kyem, a 21-year-old student at the time, was charged with breach of peace after he was spotted carrying a sword that was mistaken for a handgun, according to CBS New York. Kyem’s mother told the Hartford Courant that the incident was a misunderstanding, and friends of the senior said the samurai outfit he was wearing was his Halloween costume.

With such high tensions on campus, and across the nation, regarding the presence of a potential shooter, why is it acceptable for the National Guard to display assault rifles, regardless of their operating ability, as a recruitment tactic?

David Pytlik, Director of Public Relations at the Connecticut National Guard, gave the following statement regarding the recent display: “The recent Connecticut Army National Guard recruiting event … that included a display of weapon systems used by the organization was approved by the university. Similar recruiting events have been conducted for at least the past ten years (except for a couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic). Connecticut Army National Guard recruiters closely coordinated the event and display with university police and provided them with necessary risk mitigation measures, including ensuring the weapons displayed were inoperable and secured.”

This statement from Pytlik posed a defensive argument heavily based upon precedent.

Pytlik said that an “honest and effective recruiting campaign includes displays and demonstrations of equipment the armed forces use to perform our duties. This case included individual soldier equipment such as body armor and weapon systems. The Connecticut Army National Guard frequently conducts equipment and capability displays for our community partners and recruiting events. Unlike most other professions, military service in the armed forces inherently includes using individual weapon systems. It naturally follows that someone interested in joining the military may want to see the equipment used. Given the close accountability and safety measures implemented, this recruiting event posed no public danger and was a successful recruiting event for the Connecticut Army National Guard.”

Pytlik shared another piece of information: “We recently did a recruiting event at UConn with a helicopter, armored vehicle, and bridging equipment, so recruiting events and displays are not unique to CCSU,” Pytlik said.

As verified by Janice Palmer, CCSU’s vice president of marketing and communications, the booth and the inoperable weaponry on display were sanctioned by the university. Palmer also pointed to the National Guard’s cooperation with campus police but said the university would review the practice. “The University leadership team will assess the practice to determine if any changes are needed,” said Palmer.

While I understand our nation’s need for soldiers and have nothing but respect for our troops, I don’t believe that showing off inoperable guns at a school campus is justified in the search for recruits. I found the National Guard’s defense of this inquiry laughable. I especially loved the last part of their statement, which detailed the use of a helicopter, armored vehicle, and bridging equipment on other campuses to show that these “displays are not unique to CCSU.” Unfortunately, given this paragraph alone, the National Guard’s defense appears to be on a Nathan Fielder-esque level of satire.

After hearing from the CT National Guard, and a representative from CCSU, I’m not sold on the “necessity” of guns at military recruiting booths. The primary defense made by the National Guard is precedent. Even though precedent is sometimes a solid line of defense, in this case, it speaks to years and years of complacency by universities. Most importantly, though, the CT National Guard’s protection of precedent stands as an admission — they are so desperate for recruits that they feel they need to rely on the display of assault rifles to draw attention and possible recruits. The National Guard appears to see no problem with this, even though they’re openly displaying assault rifles on university grounds in a state home to one of the most deadly school shootings on U.S. soil. While Sandy Hook happened years ago, it is still imprinted on the minds of many Connecticut residents. Not to mention all of the constant reminders we get of Sandy Hook due to the 10th anniversary coming up in less than two months, the Alex Jones trial recently wrapping up, and the continued community impact it has had on those within our state’s communities.

Now I’m left wondering: Is the CT National Guard going to leave the guns at their barracks the next time they host an event on campus? Or will they do what they did at UCONN and bring a helicopter and an armored vehicle to lure recruits? Only time will tell.