The GU Advocates for Responsible Defense (GUARD) presented the Office of the President with a letter arguing that GUPD officers should be trained and equipped with firearms on April 13. A group of about 20 Georgetown students signed the letter anonymously, and leaders of the group made it public. The letter condemned the university’s current active-shooter protocols, stating that the lack of armed officers on campus would leave students defenseless in an active-shooter situation while waiting for Metro PD officers to arrive.
Arming GUPD officers would be a misguided choice. GUPD officers currently carry batons and pepper spray. Many situations that campus police officers deal with, such as handling intoxicated students, breaking up fights, and managing mental health crises, require adept de-escalation techniques and not firearms. Guns are not necessary in these situations and may even worsen them.
The shooting of Scout Schultz, a student at Georgia Tech, in September of last year demonstrates how guns were used in place of adept handling of a mental health crisis. A campus officer shot and killed Schultz after officers thought they were holding a knife. In a video of the incident, officers try to de-escalate the situation by speaking to Schultz. When one officer told them not to move and Schultz began to walk towards him asking the officer to shoot them, the officer killed them. Schultz suffered from depression and had previously attempted suicide, and the officer who killed them had not received training on how to respond to calls involving mentally ill individuals. In the situations that arise on college campuses where specialized skills, such as in mental health crisis management, are required to keep students safe, placing extremely deadly weapons in the hands of the school’s police force can do more harm than good.
GUARD’s letter states that it is “unusual” for a D.C. university to keep its police force unarmed, but neglects to mention that Georgetown is not the only local university that elects to keep its police force unarmed. Despite having authorization under the College and University Campus Security Amendment Act of 1995, George Washington University, American University, Gallaudet University, and Catholic University also do not have armed campus police.
While GUARD’s letter mentions Howard University and University of the District of Columbia (UDC) as two examples of local universities that arm their campus police forces, it fails to recognize the ongoing movement to disarm the campus police at Howard. Last month, members of the student group HU Resist occupied an administration building to demand the disarming of campus police and formation of an oversight body on the police force, among other claims. Both Howard University and UDC are historically black colleges, and HU Resist stated that disarming campus officers is vital to prevent unnecessary violence against black students. Having a gun can escalate tension and potentially lead to an officer using deadly force in an inappropriate situation, a fear that is exacerbated further by a history of police violence against black Americans. A prominent example is the shooting of Samuel Dubose, an African-American student at the University of Cincinnati, who was shot by a campus police officer at a traffic stop over a missing license tag.
Arming GUPD would also be an expensive endeavor. It would require the university to purchase guns and hold training programs for GUPD officers. Armed campus officers are required by D.C. law to complete a 56-hour basic firearms course covering the use of lethal and nonlethal force and police liability, and to submit proof annually of qualification to Metro PD. Given the potential downsides of arming campus police, this would not be a responsible investment.
In a statement to the Voice, university spokesperson Rachel Pugh said, “Our top priority is the safety and security of our community and we are constantly working to prevent violence and ensure the security of our community.” We believe that in pursuance of this goal, the university should focus on educating Georgetown students and staff of university resources and protocols for an active shooter situation.
Run.Hide.Fight is a set of strategies for responding to a shooter on campus that is used at universities throughout the country. Groups of individuals from the Georgetown community can request a 30 minute training course. The course lays out the action steps students should take in an emergency situation. Teaching how to respond to an active shooter situation is the best way to prepare for potentially dangerous emergency situations. GUPD also has a dedicated Threat Assessment Team whose objective is to prevent the Run.Hide.Fight protocols from ever needing to be used. This program is a resource for students to report threats they have experienced against themselves or others to avoid a dangerous situation from occurring in the first place.
More widespread knowledge of these programs, not more guns, are what will keep the Georgetown community safe.