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Letters to the editor: Trip Kennedy ’68 and President Kington on gun politics

Dear Dr. Kington,

Thank you for your letter of Jan. 12 in response to mine of Nov. 12, 2017.

I am, perhaps needless to say, disappointed in your response. Permit me to bring two matters to your attention which might help you better understand how profoundly inappropriate it is that the College accepts Mr. Brownell’s money. The first goes to the source of his wealth and the second to what might be considered his politics. But context is important. Grinnell has always been a learning community dedicated to the creation of a better world.

There is an argument, albeit a decreasingly compelling one, that hunting is a harmless, even a wholesome activity. Shotguns and hunting rifles might thus be thought of as tools to be used in this pursuit, analogous to fishing tackle.

Handguns, on the other hand, have only one purpose, that being to take human life. Military-style rifles fall, quite obviously, in the same category. The taking of human life is not an unfortunate by-product of the existence of such weapons, it is their very reason-d’être. The legality of an activity does not establish its ethical content. Mr. Brownell’s money has been made by selling and distributing murder weapons. This activity is not only contrary to the creation of a better world, it contributes directly and unavoidably to the creation of a worse one. Mr. Brownell’s money has been made in a manner that undermines Grinnell’s mission.

On the question of Mr. Brownell’s politics, it is clear, although it may be less so from within the United States, that what might be called the gun lobby has one essential message, that being that society cannot defend its members from the forces of chaos. First, in advancing this line as the leader of the NRA, Mr. Brownell is disseminating both a lie and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Second, this line is fundamentally hostile to the very notion of community, which is also at Grinnell’s core.

Anything that Mr. Brownell might do that would seem inconsistent with his rejection of both truth and the very idea of community can only be understood as profoundly disingenuous. Grinnell gains nothing by extending a fig leaf of respectability to such a purveyor of socially corrosive disinformation.

I understand that Mr. Brownell’s money is being used by the College for a worthy purpose. However, there can be no doubt that the New England abolitionists who founded Grinnell would have refused money from slave traders, no matter the good use to which the money might have been put. They would have understood that the ends never justify the means.

On the question of divisions that may exist within the College and in the broader community on questions related to firearms, I can only say that I never knew Grinnell to follow the path of least resistance. My Grinnell has always taken the principled stand. I look forward to being able to rejoin our community of donors when you advise me that the College has revisited and reversed its earlier decision to accept Mr. Brownell’s money.


James S. (Trip) Kennedy ’68


Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Thank you for taking the time to share your views with me on Grinnell College’s relationship with the current president of the National Rifle Association, who is a member of our local community.

Personally, I firmly believe that the political power of the NRA distorts American democracy and needs to be countered. However, many of my neighbors disagree with me. The proximity of such divergent political and social views in a town like Grinnell, while challenging, is fundamentally beneficial to our educational mission, as long as we can engage in civil conversations and refrain from dehumanizing those who do not agree with our own views.   

I know Mr. Brownell and his wife to be concerned parents, engaged citizens and active members of our local community. As much as l disagree with Mr. Brownell’s stands on gun policy, he and his wife have a genuine concern for our community that makes it possible for us to have constructive conversations, and even to work together for positive change in other policy areas. The Ignite Program, which their gift initiated four years ago, is one of the ways they have helped to make the Grinnell community a better place to live and raise a family. 

The Ignite Program brings local preschool and elementary students to Grinnell College for a day of student-led learning. Participating students take courses in both conventional and unconventional subjects taught by Grinnell College students. The program helps to make the idea of higher education in general, and the academic resources and opportunities of Grinnell College in particular, better known and more accessible to members of our community. The Ignite Program does not advertise the NRA, nor is it funded by the NRA, either directly or indirectly. 

Regarding your concern about the possible use of handguns by faculty members, if any faculty member brought any kind of weapon to campus, we would take immediate disciplinary action. However, we have no way of knowing whether faculty members own or use firearms off-campus, and in any event the College would have no right to take any kind of official action regarding any legal off-campus gun use. 

Thanks again for reaching out. I appreciate your passion and engagement, even if we disagree on specific courses of action.

Best regards,

Raynard Kington

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  • B

    Bill BaarMar 13, 2018 at 8:28 am

    Well, not sure my first comment will pass moderation, but here’s a case of Grinnell’s found father sheltering those who would arm Americans with Military Assault Rifles When Josiah Grinnell’s Home Concealed John Brown’s Guns

  • B

    Bill BaarMar 8, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    I’d like to see some evidence on this: “However, there can be no doubt that the New England abolitionists who founded Grinnell would have refused money from slave traders, no matter the good use to which the money might have been put. They would have understood that the ends never justify the means.” You get into the History of established Churches like the Congregationalists before the Civil War and you’ll find opinions not so neat about giving up blood and treasure over slavery. I’ve found that in the Histories of Northern Illinois’s Unitarians. Best leave the ghosts out of our arguments supposing “no doubt” about how they governed an Institution like the College at the cusp of a very bloody war.

  • C

    Chuck Connerly, '68Mar 2, 2018 at 12:07 am

    Kudos to my classmate, Trip Kennedy, for his excellent letter on this topic. Members of the Class of 1968, along with other Grinnell alumni, have launched a petition asking that the College no longer accept gifts from the NRA President, but instead fund the Ignite Program with gifts from alumni, faculty, staff, and students. If you would like to sign the petition, please go to

    Chuck Connerly, Class of 1968