The need to bear arms

Last Tuesday, the Vanguard reported that the Oregon House of Representatives had again picked up a bill that would, among other things, provide firearms to campus security officers in the Oregon University System (“Bill proposed to arm campus safety officers,” May 8).

Last Tuesday, the Vanguard reported that the Oregon House of Representatives had again picked up a bill that would, among other things, provide firearms to campus security officers in the Oregon University System (“Bill proposed to arm campus safety officers,” May 8).

House Bill 3318, if passed, would not only allow the arming of campus officers, it would require them to have a higher standard of training, close to the level of police officers. It would pay them more and require a minimum of six officers to be on duty at all times, with one certified police officer on call.

This is good. This is something that deserves our support. Linda Flores, a state representative on the House committee overseeing the bill, noted that Oregon is one of two states that don’t allow their campus security officers to be armed (whether said campuses actually arm their public safety officers, and to what degree, is another matter). Well, why not us?

Some have cited concerns about giving guns to current public safety officers, perhaps perceiving them to be “rent-a-cops.” But HB 3318 would mitigate that through the pay raises and increased training, giving us a campus security force much more like actual police. Higher standards for those we trust to protect us is a really positive thing.

Some demonstrate understandable uneasiness with the idea of solving the issue of campus violence with additional firearms. It smacks of “fighting fire with fire,” pardon the pun. It’s true that the possibility of violence on campus is not going to go away just by adding more guns into the mix, but we have to realize that no singular action is going to help this problem. It’s one piece in a much larger puzzle.

Making our campuses safe for everyone, especially one as large and urban as Portland State’s, will take much time and effort on multiple fronts, a lot of which don’t involve force. It will mean providing teachers and students with the information to respond to individuals who are at risk for violent behavior. It will mean providing resources for those individuals.

These are all pieces of the puzzle, just like preparing our campuses to respond effectively in the case of emergency. And that means beefing up our security forces. Mike Silver, a public safety officer at Western Oregon University as well as HB 3318’s sponsor, said, “If we have a violent on-campus incident, we don’t have the training or the tools of being able to complete our jobs.” So let’s give them to them.

Some have suggested, instead of going through designated public safety officers, that we relax campus gun laws to allow students or professors to carry firearms, noting that the Appalachian School of Law shooting in 2002 was quelled when students retrieved personal guns from their cars and forced the shooter to drop his weapon.

That was a fortunate situation, but can we really count on gun-toting students to have the right knowledge and disposition required to use firearms effectively in a violent situation? There are people like that already who aren’t students, like, say, the campus security officers, if House Bill 3318 passes.

As for professors, the few professors I’ve heard comment on the idea of them carrying guns have expressed bewilderment and refusal at such a thing. And I don’t know about you, but the thought of a few certain professors of mine packing heat seems like an excellent opportunity for disaster.

If we’re going to arm anybody, let’s arm the people we pay to protect us.

There are not a lot of other physical methods we could use to make our campuses safer. Remember the rush of “safety improvements” suggested for high schools after the Columbine tragedy? Time magazine ran a shiny graphic of possibilities for the high school of the future, with bars on the windows and metal detectors at the entrances.

That was ridiculous for a high school, and it’s even more ridiculous for a college campus. If somebody wishes to cause violent mayhem at Portland State, it is impossible for us to take preventative measures via force, unless we wish our school to feel like a prison.

Prevention can only work in the non-forceful ways mentioned above, but response to a potentially violent incident can only work with force. And that means getting more campus security officers who are better paid, better trained, and yes, carrying guns.

A large issue that remains in the way, and is little related to the ideological question of the argument, is cost. According to Jay Kenton, Oregon University System vice chancellor, the increased training and pay for campus security officers would cost us an extra $4.5 million a biennia.

That’s a hefty chunk of change even without our higher education system being strapped for cash in emergency-like proportions, not to mention our tuition, which keeps going up and up and up.

So maybe this isn’t the most pressing concern for Oregon universities at the moment. But then again, when will it be? The needs for improvement in our public safety forces are never really going to be felt until it’s too late.

Remember the stories of towns with little-used but dangerous intersections that never get a stop sign put by them until somebody crashes and dies? Let’s put up our figurative stop sign before it has to get to that point. Even if it’s not right away, let’s make it a priority. We can get this through, and establish safer campuses for everybody.