March 25, 2023
As we all come to realize as we get older, freedom is a fragile thing and is only as safe as the next generation of Americans willing to defend it. And just watching so-called “mainstream” media, that can seem to be a scary proposition. However, the plethora of ridiculous Tik-Tok videos, widespread “wokeness” and seeming distaste for hard work among younger Americans might not be as widespread as many would like to think. A great example of that is the group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), which has been rallying freedom-minded students to fight injustices on college campuses for over a decade. Formed in 2012 out of the Students for Ron Paul movement, YAL now has some 500 chapters on college campuses with about 5,000 members, all focused on regaining liberty that has been lost.
“We strive to identify, educate and mobilize students on college campuses about the principles of small government, self-government and other liberty-minded issues such as free speech, self-defense and the Second Amendment, lower taxes and sober foreign policy,” said JP Kirby, YAL’s director for student rights. “We’ve been working on college campuses to teach students how to express their values and push against the progressive movement, and promote more self-government and individual liberty as opposed to more collectivism and Marxism that we’re seeing across the country.”
As Kirby explained, liberty-minded students often feel alone on campuses, not aware that their values are shared by many others, who feel equally alone. Consequently, they don’t speak out for what they believe out of fear of getting shouted down by the louder liberal voices.
“A lot of times students are very thankful to find like-minded individuals on campuses because even if the ideological split on college campuses isn’t as extreme as some people think it is, the impression a lot of times is that way—that students feel like they are the only voices pushing against progressivism,” Kirby said. “When they are able to get a group of students and they’re able to rally around at first a couple of others, then it’s a dozen others—we’ve even had chapters that have toward a triple-digit membership—then they can actually start making moves and making change on campuses.
“Students are willing to be bold and speak out for their rights on campus because they have a community around them and they see that they’re not the only voices speaking out against collectivism.”
Initially focusing on free speech issues, the organization recently began fighting for the rights of adults on college campuses to have the means with which to protect themselves—just like they can when not on campus.
“For a long time, we have been fighting against unconstitutional free speech policies on college campuses,” Kirby said. “Things that involve prior restraint—schools saying students have to get prior permission to speak or assemble—or questions of free speech zones. We’ve been fighting bad policies on campus since 2013.
“In 2021, we decided we were going to use our network and try to push toward more types of rights on campus—things like self-defense, obviously keeping free speech in the cycle and certain prohibitions on college campuses to really start expanding rights on college campuses. College campuses are super restrictive and make you ask to do just about anything. They treat their students as if they aren’t full adults with the same rights as anybody else not on campus.”
As Kirby explains it, the effort to fight for campus carry gets to the very core of American liberty, as protected by the Second Amendment. And crossing a line from being off campus to being on campus shouldn’t automatically make those freedoms go away.
“At the end of the day, these are students that, just because they’re students, they’re still full grown adults, they’re American citizens that are no more likely to shoot up a place or have an accidental discharge on campus than they would anywhere else,” he said. “The only people affected by gun laws are law-abiding citizens not criminals, and law-abiding citizens who are actually not going to take the risk to carry their weapons on campus are the ones who are put at risk by these policies.”
YAL’s first effort at winning a campus carry battle focused on the South Dakota School of Mines, where the YAL leadership is strong.
“This was a great school for us to decide to basically kick off our campus carry project,” Kirby said. “It’s a lot of engineering students, a lot of students that come from a rural background, so they’re used to having their Second Amendment rights. And Sioux Falls is a pretty dangerous area where the campus is.”
Administrators at the school initially acted interested in overturning the no-guns policy on campus. However, Kirby said that when the movement began to pick up steam—600 signatures were collected on petitions by YAL members from a student body of just 3,000—the school president backpedaled and began passing the buck.
“It was a good learning opportunity for us to teach our students that a lot of times when you’re trying to pass legislation in a state or get something done on any level, a lot of times politicians and bureaucrats will tell you whatever you want to hear just to get you to go away because a bureaucrat’s favorite thing to do is nothing,” Kirby said. “You’ve got to actually get out there and find the pressure points that will make it easier for the bureaucrat to actually take action and change a policy, rather than continue to do nothing about it.”
In response to the stonewalling, YAL commissioned a billboard right across the street from the college’s executive building.
“For two months, President (James) Rankin when going in and out of his office building every day had to look at a billboard with his face on it telling people in the Sioux Falls community, as well as students on campus at SD Mines, to call President Rankin and tell him that they support campus carry,” Kirby said.
While the work on campus carry will continue at that school, Kirby said YAL has a few other schools where student members are looking to begin a similar campaign. In the process, students learn more than they likely do in most of their classes.
“Especially the students who are interested in going into politics or liberty-loving students who actually want to defend their rights through politics later, this is an absolutely great learning experience,” he said. “Having students actually experience grassroots politics and see what makes the wheels turn is very educational.
“The education that you get in the classroom teaches the status quo. You need to identify what right you want to fight for and defend, then you owe it to your beliefs to learn the real ways to fight for those and get those rights back. That’s what we try to teach students here at Young Americans for Liberty.”
For more information about Young Americans for Liberty, please visit the YALiberty website.
About the Author
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for over 20 years.
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