Leyla Pirnie, a 24-year-old Harvard graduate student, has been asked to move out of her Massachusetts student apartment after her roommates ransacked her room while she was away for a weekend.
Pirnie told the Washington Free Beacon that her roommates confessed they went looking for guns because she is from Alabama and owns a Make America Great Again hat—two items that led them to believe that she also would own firearms.
She said she was confronted about her guns by her six roommates on her return from her weekend break.
“When I asked them why they were in my room to begin with, they each came up with completely contradicting stories (none of which made any sense), but one comment struck me in particular: ‘We saw that you had a MAGA hat and come on, you’re from Alabama… so we just kind of assumed that you had something,'” she said. “I asked why they didn’t just call me and ask me before intruding. One of the girls responded that fear took over her body and she felt compelled to search my room until she found proof… I cannot make this up.”
Pirnie also said that despite explaining she was trained in the use of guns, her roommates were more concerned with someone breaking in and turning the guns on them or that a gun “might go off on [its] own.” Although, Pirnie said her biggest issue was her roommates, who she barely knew, going through her personal belongings. Pirnie went on to say that she believes her landlord “showed tremendous prejudice against my right to legally have firearms.”
The discovery of Pirnie’s firearms prompted one of the roommates to e-mail the landlord, David Lewis, to verify that Pirnie was in compliance with applicable firearms laws.
“We discussed with Leyla that all of us are uncomfortable with having firearms in the house, and that their presence causes anxiety and deprives us of the quiet enjoyment of the premise to which we are entitled,” the roommate wrote to Lewis.
Lewis, president of Avid Management, the company that owns the apartment house, said in an e-mail to the household, “Since it’s clear that Leyla wants to keep her firearms, it would be best for all parties if she finds another place to live.” That e-mail came after Lewis had consulted with his attorney and after an inspection of the firearms by Somerville, Massachusetts Police Captain James Donovan. Donovan told Lewis and the tenants that Pirnie was in full compliance with Massachusetts state law, and that the firearms were kept, stored and maintained in full compliance with Massachusetts state law.
Lewis acknowledged that Pirnie was well within her rights and that she was not violating any laws. But his e-mail continued, “That being said, it is clear that the rest of the housemates are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of Firearms (sic) being kept in the household and this difference in philosophy and life style has led to an uncomfortable level of tension and stress for the entire household.”
Pirnie has refused to vacate her apartment. She said that when the roommates confronted her about her firearms she explained to them she was a legal gun owner who is trained in the safe handling of firearms. She said the roommates weren’t concerned with Pirnie’s handling of the guns but rather that somebody might break in and turn the guns on them or the guns “might go off on their own.”
She told the Beacon that her landlord’s concern over some of her roommates being uncomfortable with legally owned firearms is misplaced and his request that she move out is inappropriate.
“What I find uncomfortable is coming home to find out that six people I barely know went into my bedroom without permission and went through every single one of my drawers, without any regard to my privacy whatsoever,” Pirnie said. “My landlord’s e-mail, though carefully crafted, showed tremendous prejudice against my right to legally have firearms.”
Pirnie said her motivations for owning firearms have been ignored even though she shared them with her roommates. While an undergrad, she said she was in a physically abusive relationship. She said the experience is part of what drives her to be armed.
“Nobody has bothered to question, ‘Well, why do you want to have protection? Could it be because you’ve experienced something where you need to protect yourself as you see fit?'” she said. “I have a real and legitimate reason as to why I want to protect myself.”
When Pirnie and her father rejected Lewis’s request that she move out in the middle of studying for finals, Lewis responded by saying his request “was based strictly on practical and not ideological terms.” He then warned that if the other roommates moved out Pirnie would have to pay their rent.
“If the other roommates were to move out, Leyla would need to find roommates to share the place or foot the entire $6000+ monthly rent herself,” Lewis wrote in an email to Pirnie and her father. “Obviously it would be much easier for the others to stay and just fill one room (and I’m confident—were this to happen—that the remaining housemates will release Leyla from any further responsibility under the lease) and that’s why I proposed what I did.”
Pirnie feels she’s being punished for being a gun owner.
“I’m still very much so being threatened out of my apartment,” she said. “Either I leave and incur moving expenses or my roommates move and I incur their rent expenses… Doesn’t seem right. Not only is this a blatant violation of my privacy, but it’s also a violation of my rights.”
A search of Pirnie’s social media accounts reveals much about her political and religious philosophy. According to her Facebook page, Pirnie is from Izmir, Turkey. Pirnie says on her page that she began studying at Harvard on September 4. In a Facebook conversation about Ronald Reagan and the belief that the United States is a Christian nation, Pirnie identifies as a Christian. In response to a Reagan quote that saw the 40th president quoted as saying, “The constitution was never meant to prevent people from praying: its declared purpose was to protect their freedom to pray,” Pirnie said, “It’s important to keep in mind that this country was founded on Christian principles and values, with the belief that we should be tolerant of other religions. That doesn’t mean that we should be changing things like “in God we trust” or “merry Christmas” to “happy holidays” just because it might offend someone. Christians can’t be the only ones who are tolerant of other religions.”
Pirnie said in a University of Alabama questionnaire in 2015, “My name is Leyla Pirnie. I was born and raised in Izmir, Turkey for 12 years; however, my parents are both American. My mother is from German descent, while my father is from Scottish descent.”
A search for Pirnie’s Twitter account shows that her account has been suspended. It is not clear why this occurred; the last mention for her username came in May 2015.
Since Pirnie’s eviction story spread across the internet, she has deleted her LinkedIn account. A view of a cached version of that page shows that Pirnie is a graduate of Fairhope High School, class of 2009, and a 2017 graduate of the University of Alabama. At Alabama, Pirnie studied International Relation and Affairs, French and Political Science.
While at the University of Alabama, Pirnie was the social chair of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women and the Director of Public Relations for the International Students Association. Pirnie also said on her LinkedIn page that she is a senior director of Ropir International S.A., a package delivery company based in Doral, Florida. A separate online profile shows that Pirnie lived in Paris, France, for a time.
Since November 30, when the Washington Free Beacon broke the story of her threatened eviction, support from conservatives has skyrocketed. She was interviewed by FOX News. In addition, her story has struck a chord with conservatives on Twitter, with many rushing to offer their support to the Harvard grad student. Here are just a couple of their illustrative responses:
“A Christian in Turkey is almost as bad as being a Conservative in a Starbucks or at Harvard…….Dave Lewis has no legal grounds to remove her and if he attempted to do so, it would be in violation of her 2nd Amendment rights. As for her two roommates, I’m assuming all three of them signed the lease agreement. If they did and the two roommates moved out, the bigoted Dave Lewis’s only legal recourse would be to pursue them for non payment of their portion of the rent……”
“This is why people should talk about gun ownership before becoming roommates. Her roommates should never have searched her room or her belongings. A lot of younger people claim to her values, but their values seem to be do “whatever I feel like even if it’s wrong.”
Alex Roberts, writing for Halsey News December 1, concluded his article with a sentiment that many who support Pirnie echoed on their social media accounts.
“What this situation comes down to is another white educated woman who has found herself attacked when she has done nothing wrong. The landlord clearly displays no respect for the rights of Layla Pirnie who was legally within her rights and met the state requirements according to the very police officers who David Lewis had inspect the situation.”