Justice

Feminist Speaker Receives Death Threats, Police Say State Gun Laws Won’t Let Them Protect Her

CREDIT: Anita Sarkeesian

Utah State University received a letter on Tuesday saying that if it didn’t cancel its event with feminist speaker Anita Sarkeesian, “a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out.” The person writing the threat informed the school, according to a copy of letter obtained by the Standard-Examiner, “I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs.”

But, because of Utah’s concealed carry laws, the school was unable to assure Sarkeesian that metal detectors and pat-downs would be used to check attendees.

Sarkeesian’s work exposing sexist and misogynistic behavior in videogaming has sparked a culture war, with Sarkeesian herself at the center. The Canadian blogger and activist has received a steady stream of rape, death, and bomb threats as she’s written and recorded videos explaining how women face online harassment and ostracization in gaming. The attacks have become so common that in its letter announcing the cancelation of her event, Utah state wrote, “After a careful assessment of the threat it has been determined it is similar to other threats that Sarkeesian has received in the past, and all university business will be conducted as scheduled tomorrow.”

The school makes clear in its announcement that it was Sarkeesian who felt uncomfortable with this situation, and canceled her own event. Sarkeesian backed up that point in a series of tweets about it:

It is surprising that a university cannot assure the safety of its speaker because of state law, as the school explained in its release on the event cancelation. “[In] accordance with the State of Utah law regarding the carrying of firearms,” it wrote, “if a person has a valid concealed firearm permit and is carrying a weapon, they are permitted to have it at the venue.”

In 2006, however, Utah became the first state to allow campus carry. Under the law, students may request not to share a dormitory room with someone carrying a firearm, but pretty much anywhere else on campus is fair game. There is a stipulation that some “secure areas” can bar guns, but the room where Sarkeesian’s event should have taken place apparently did not qualify.

Not only does Utah have no waiting period at all to buy a gun, the state has broken records with the number of concealed carry permits it issues. At the end of last year, the number of permits issued by the state hit half a million. Sixty-two percent of those permits, however, went to people who did not live in Utah.

After the news broke that Sarkeesian would be canceling her event due to threats, another feminist activist, Shelby Knox, tweeted that the story sounded familiar to her. “I’m a feminist speaker & had a gun pulled on me at an event,” she wrote, “in my home state of TX, a concealed carry state.”