December 2, 2016

Opinion: Campus public safety officers should not have guns

The idea of arming campus public safety officers might seem like a way to keep students safe, but it’s actually guaranteed to make many of them feel less safe at college.

Maryville University Public Safety recently announced that they their officers will begin carrying guns, and it’s not hard to understand why. Anyone involved in decision-making at a Missouri college has probably noticed that Washington University has seen two shootings in the past two months, each of which injured a university employee.

The incidents are cause for concern, but making decisions based on them is ill-considered, and it would not make sense for a university like Webster to follow suit.

Illustration by Sarah Blankenship

Illustration by Sarah Blankenship

On some college campuses, it is possible that the environment is so risky that armed public safety officers become a necessity. In a college community like Washington University, the campus has its own police department, and the calculation around whether they should be armed is very different. However, decisions like this are not one-size-fits-all, and no college should base its decisions solely on what everyone else is doing, as Maryville seems to be.

Webster Groves is a safe community and Webster University is a safe school. We very rarely experience crimes more violent and serious than minor theft. Bringing guns onto our campus would not be a response to a problem, but it could create one.

We have to keep in mind the risks of having guns on campus, no matter whose hands they are in.

At the University of Cincinnati, public safety officers are armed. In July 2015, The Washington Post reported, a white public safety officer shot and killed a black man during what should have been a routine traffic stop. Body camera video showed that all he had done to provoke the shooting was appear to turn his key in the ignition.

This kind of violence is all too normal for American police officers, but it should not become a part of college life.

On many campuses that have considered the idea of arming public safety officers, students have been vehemently opposed. The University of Rochester’s Campus Life reported many students said they would feel less safe if public safety officers were armed and were especially concerned about potential shootings of black students. This seems like a sensitive concern, especially in St. Louis.

It is true that fatal shootings by campus police officers are very rare. But a question like this requires the consideration of more than just that fact.

What happened at the University of Cincinnati is a textbook example of the dangers of public safety officers believing the risk factor in a situation is much higher than it is in reality. There is no better way to inflate someone’s conception of their own responsibility than by giving them a gun.

Yes, public safety officers are trained, and yes, they would likely receive additional training on both gun safety and implicit racial bias if they were ever armed. As we can see from the many police shootings St. Louis is intimately familiar with, training does not always work.

I don’t believe many Webster students feel unsafe on their campus right now. There is no

reason to change that by creating a dynamic in which some students, influenced by their experiences with racism and our area’s history, will have to feel afraid of the people who are supposed to protect them.

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