The Wild, Wild West College Campus By W. Barry Nixon, SPHR GUNS ON CAMPUS: A 2ND AMENDMENT GOD GIVEN RIGHT OR FRONTIER JUSTICE? As an increasing number of states across the US pass legislation to allow residents to carry concealed weapons, a national debate has been sparked over the issue. Is this just another shot fired by the progun supporters to advocate that college campuses and workplaces across America should move from being „gun free‟ to „right to carry‟ zones in which frontier justice once again becomes the norm? A SENSITIVE ISSUE: It is important to maintain an unbiased view when dealing with this issue. The „right of Americans to bare arms‟ is an important right rooted in the history of this great country. Beyond that, I one should believe in the application of common sense in the use of guns. Unfortunately, „common sense‟ as it applies to the use and application of guns is subject to interpretation, political views, biases and the unpredictable nature of human behavior. This means that The debate of views regarding guns and the carrying of concealed weapons will take place in the arena of personal beliefs, ideas, experience and reasoning, not in scientific data, quantitative analysis and experimental research. COULD CONCEALED WEAPONS HELP CURB THE VIOLENCE? The issue of whether or not concealed weapons in organizations, places of work and on college campuses could help curb the violence is subject to much debate. I strongly believe that there are tremendous risks involved in having an armed employee and student population. Just a little application of common sense reinforces this point. We only need look at the statistics regarding „child deaths inflicted by gun wounds.‟ The vast majority of these children die because there was a gun in their house that was accessible to them. Simply having guns in a house creates the possibility of unintended consequences for a family and the possibility of these unintended consequences would be geometrically multiplied on a school campus. While I am sure that there are numerous examples of people with guns preventing a crime there are also numerous studies that seriously counter the belief that „possessing a gun increases a person‟s safety.‟ According to a 2001 Harvard University study, 4.3% of college students nationwide (over 450,000) have a working firearm at college. Of those students surveyed, more than half responded that the reason they have a gun is for protection. However, the study found that students who have a firearm are more likely to exhibit irresponsible behavior than those who do not: binge drink and drive (27% vs. 9%); to vandalize property (21% vs. 10%); and to get in trouble with the police (10% vs. 6%).(move the next sentence starting with „While the study does not . . .” up to be the last sentence of this paragrahp.) While the study does not necessarily suggest that students who carry guns are more prone to violence, this issue certainly warrants further study. Researchers at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program have found that the link between violent death and handgun purchase was very strong. Handgun purchasers accounted for just 0.5 percent of the study population, but 14.2 percent of gun suicides, 2.4 percent of gun homicides, and 16.7 percent of unintentional gun deaths. A study conducted in 2003 at the Firearms Injury Center at Penn, University of Pennsylvania found that people in households with guns are almost twice as likely to be victims of gun homicide than people in household without guns. A study by Dr. Phillip Cook, a professor of Public Policy at Duke University showed that “if your neighbors are heavily armed, you‟re not getting any protection. In fact, it might make things more dicey.” That dovetails with Dr.David Hemenway‟s research. He asks: Do you feel safe with a gun in your home? Most people say yes. Then he ask: would you feel safer if your neighbors had guns. Most say no.
On the reverse side of the coin, statistics exist that state: „those who possess a concealed weapon permit have a lesser rate of criminal acts‟ Unfortunately, the issues being dealt with are not predictable math formulas; they are as variable and unpredictable as human behavior. Situations change, organizations change, as do people. To generalize that „concealed weapon permit holders are less likely to get highly stressed and lose it‟, is a dangerous proposition; no better than the odds of rolling the dice roulette. One need only refer to the situation in Tacoma, WA where the Chief of Police, David Brame, murdered his estranged wife. His position as the Chief of Police did not immunize him from the same range of human emotions and psychological despair that apparently led to this tragic situation. Statistics that state: „those who possess a concealed weapon permit have a lesser rate of criminal acts‟, are of little comfort to the family of Brames‟ estranged wife. And, as is common knowledge, law enforcement officers have one of the highest rates of divorce and suicide, despite the extensive training they receive. If sworn police officers frequently succumb to their emotions, to suggest that concealed weapon permit owners are a better group, „unlikely to fall prey to the full range of human experience‟, is folly. “EXISTING” VERSUS “EFFECTIVE” VIOLENCE PREVENTION PROGRAMS: The hallmarks of an effective program are effectively acting on „the warning signs‟ and taking definitive actions that mitigate or remove the threat from the work environment. “Effective” is a definitive word in violence prevention. The shooting death of a faculty member, Dr. Rodger Haggitt, at the University of Washington‟sUW Academic Medical Center in June 2000, illustrates this point. Chen, 42, arrived at the University of Washington after two years in a residency program at the University of Mississippi. Prior to his arrival, he was a promising scientist, but he began to struggle in one of the nation‟s most demanding pathology programs. When told his work was sub par, he became very agitated and engaged in shouting matches with his supervisors. When his supervisors suggested psychological counseling, rather then assuage the situation, it further enraged Chen. Some colleagues were so intimidated by Chen they would lock their doors when he was around. “There was considerable concern and consternation on the part of the department faculty,” commented John Coombs, associate vice president for medical affairs and associate dean of the medical school. That increased when department officials learned that Chen was shopping for a gun. Medical residents saw yellow pages turned to gun shops, and even spotted a map of a gun shop on his computer screen. At a meeting a month before the shooting, he was asked by department officials and police if he was going to buy a gun, and he said he wanted one for protection. Officials warned Chen that it was illegal to carry a gun on the UW campus. Because Chen, who had no criminal record, never made a threat against any specific individual, there was nothing more law enforcement and University officials could do. Or could they? Subsequently it came to light that a UW policeman saw Chen at a Bellevue gun shop, but didn‟t report it until after the shooting. Unfortunately, hind site has no value in curbing campus violence. Two weeks before his final workday, Chen‟s background check was complete and he was cleared to pick up a .357 Glock semi-automatic pistol. Chen planned his suicide with great care and precision. He prepared letters to be sent after his death, including one to Haggitt, who he apparently did not intend to kill. Perhaps Chen changed his mind or Haggitt tried to intercede and stop the suicide. The medical examiner‟s report was inconclusive. Chen, a native of Shanghai, China, had become a naturalized U.S. citizen and had gotten along well with people at schools he studied at in China, New York, Iowa, Texas and Mississippi. But after he arrived at the UW, he began to struggle. His less than fluent command of English created problems. As did his mulishness. Former colleagues stated that he felt humiliated when his ideas were rejected or
deemed unrealistic. When the UW did not renew his contract, his humiliation was complete. The result was explosive and, unfortunately, deadly. The existence of a violence prevention policy at UW alone does not necessarily mean it was effectively implemented. To have continued to retain an individual who was openly feared, and known thought to be a ticking bomb and who was known to have been pursuing the purchase of a gun without having taken precautionary measures would not be viewed by many as the most an effective way to have attempt to have thwarted potential violence.program.
THE RISKS OF AN ARMED STUDENT AND FACULTY POPULATION: An armed student and faculty population would create tremendous risks on campus. One need only view the devastating statistics regarding „child deaths inflicted by gun wounds.‟ The vast majority of these children died because there was a gun in their house that was accessible to them. You can be sure these parents would no longer agree that it was a good idea to make their home a “gun zone.” Just as a gun in a house creates the possibility of unintended consequences for a family; the possibility of these unintended consequences would be geometrically multiplied on American campuses. It is an unfortunate fact that gun homicide is the second leading course of death for young people 15-24.
ARMED SECURITY GUARDS: Many have questioned the viability of having armed security guards and chosen not to do so because of the liability risk and possibility of an unintended consequence. If organizations and colleges are not willing to arm those entrusted with providing security, it certainly makes no sense to skip security altogether and allow students and faculty to be armed. It is hard to fathom that many organizations would be willing to face these issues in their environment, given the possible consequences and immense potential legal liability. To quote an unknown author, this would be a classic case of “we have solved the problem, now we must fight the solution.” It is clear that this subject warrants more study. The ultimate goal shared by all, regardless of which side of the fence they stand, is to make a safer work, learning and living environment for all. Colleges should reconsider any decision that precludes the presence of armed security personnel. Admittedly, This would increase the cost of hiring security personnel because of the heightened skill level needed, and the amount of training (training can often time involve 40 hours of academic work, 14 weeks of field training and completion of basic training at a law enforcement academy). however, when weighed against the cost impact of a campus or workplace violence homicide incident, the costs are miniscule. (See „The Financial Impact of Workplace Violence‟ at www.Workplaceviolence911.com) Arming trained security personnel is a far better alternative than arming the student and faculty population and dealing with the many unpredictable variables that almost certainly will arise. The existence of armed security personnel could also solve a lingering problem that most campuses with „No Weapons‟ policies need to ensure is addressed – the duty to act that the “No Weapons‟ policy could be construed to imply. A college that merely states it does not allow weapons on its premises, but does not take effective action to prevent their presence, is inviting charges of negligent enforcement that can ultimately be played out in a courtroom. THE HOLY GRAIL: Many are searching for the “Holy Grail” of workplace and campus violence prevention. It is only by
studying the variables associated with incidents and exploring new approaches that one can hope to find solutions that will ultimately defeat the demon of violence that is wreaking havoc in America today. About the Author: W. Barry Nixon, SPHR, is the Executive Director, the National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence, Inc., a company focused on assisting organizations to effectively implement programs to prevent workplace violence. He is the author of „Background Screening and Investigations: Managing Risk in the Hiring Process,‟ „Zero Tolerance is Not Enough: How to Really Implement Workplace Violence Prevention‟ as well as numerous articles. He is also the creator of the Ultimate Workplace Violence Policymaker Software which makes it easy for companies to create a comprehensive workplace violence prevention policy in about an hour. He is an internationally recognized expert in workplace violence prevention and background screening and was recently recognized as being one of the Most Influential People in Security by Security Magazine. Mr. Nixon also teaches human resource management, organization development and management courses at several local universities. His Web Site is www.Workplaceviolence911.com and he can be reached via email at Barry@wvp911.com