Don’t jump the gun

Last month the R.I. Board of Education voted to allow public state universities the option to arm security officers. Although campuses are among the safest environments in the United States, one false security scare at the University of Rhode Island, and a handful of outrageous attacks at some colleges nationwide, have given impetus to the gun lobby’s campaign to arm security. This is a momentous step which should be carefully weighed by administrators before electing to arm officers.
To be sure, there are arguments in support of arming guards. A campus is a community of its own, and officers there may feel as though they are as at risk as any police officer would be patrolling a small town. A can of pepper spray and a billy club don’t quite cut the mustard. They think that the faculty and administration are old-fashioned in clinging to the notion that universities are like sanctuaries, and people carrying weapons would tarnish the sanctity of the space. Society is becoming increasingly violent, they argue, and that is bound to spill over onto campuses no matter how remote they are from the centers of high crime.
Certainly, the calculus of proximity to violence is an important variable. Brown University does arm its security because of the number of killings and violence in Providence. If a campus, however, is in Kingston and not easily accessible by land or sea, shouldn’t that be considered a factor?  Other factors also come into play. The CCRI President has decided against guns on campus because it is essentially a commuter school, has a security system in place with cameras, and a close working relationship with neighboring police departments. Lock-down and exit strategies are fine-honed in some places of higher learning. The students’ response to authority is also a factor. Are they more apt to respect authority today, as opposed to during the Vietnam era, when campus rallies and sometimes violence were more common?
Why not be safe, rather than sorry, and go ahead and arm security officers?  For one thing, some studies suggest that bringing guns into an environment may actually cause more injuries and death. The Boston Marathon Bombing is an example of armed and apparently trained officers   shooting one of their own by mistake. Further, while advocates tout the fact that only folks who pass the police academy will be hired and armed, the fact is that many “graduates” have never had to fire a weapon or make a decision in the midst of mayhem. Police officers who gravitate to campuses after retirement have typically been in a position of seniority,  having not had to draw a gun in years.
The United States Department of Education’s compilation of campus crime statistics and the Department of Justice’s survey of campus law enforcement, more definitive studies, will be released  by the end of the year. Until then, campuses should be surveying and polishing all of their policies and having drills with students as a counter strategy, before resorting to arming security—particularly in rural areas.


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