Our University could be safer

| Forum Editor

Gun going 'Bang?'Erin Mitchell | Student Life
Washington University can set in place practically whatever policies it wants. That much is not up for debate. They banned guns, so for now let’s get over it. The question comes down to whether the school has taken measures that are effective in protecting students and whether its policies are illogical if not harmfully vague.

We were only a week into class when two students were mugged at gunpoint, practically on campus. The police report sent around to the Wash. U. community says the incident occurred on Big Bend Blvd. near Lindell—roughly a one-minute walk from Seigle Hall and the business school and perhaps two minutes on foot from the South 40. This incident brings up the question that worries freshman parents as their students embark on their collegiate journey and the rest of the parent population as everyone returns once more for a year of school. Are we safe at Washington University?

The answer? No, we’re not safe, at least not as safe as we could be. A good starting point analyzing why is the school’s own policy, which states in part that: “The possession, storage, or use of firearms, pellet/bb/airsoft guns, knives, ammunition, or other dangerous weapons is prohibited on all University property. Students and visitors are strictly prohibited from carrying concealed weapons on University property…” This is just too vague.

This policy was read by RAs all around campus during year-beginning meetings. When asked to clarify exactly what a “dangerous weapon” is, some RAs were unclear about specifics, giving only vague descriptions that weapons are things you could use to harm others. This could, in theory, be understood by someone trained in martial arts to include the mechanical pencils handed out to 40-dwellers on the first day of class—anything can be a weapon.

To drive home the point, it should be noted that a call to the campus police and a very specific question, “Are we allowed to carry mace or pepper spray on campus to protect ourselves in light of the recent crime alert?” was met with an uncertain answer from the department representative, who advised asking around. Not just the residential staff, but also the campus police are not entirely clear about the scope of the policy.

Additionally, the university’s offerings for helping students to protect themselves are lackluster. The “In Defense of SELF” program is a good start but only scratches the surface by teaching students, in a one-hour session, strategies for protecting themselves. These include “the importance of using your voice, the best ways to protect yourself by recognizing danger signs and taking defensive action prior to a physical attack, [and] additional resources that are available to you.” These are important principles in self-defense, but classes do not cover most hand-to-hand combat techniques should de-escalation tactics fail.

Also, the whistle program that provides free, extremely loud whistles to students seems ineffectual; nobody has the opportunity to blow a whistle if there is a gun in their face, and if people blow the thing every time someone is nearby to scare the assumed predator away, they’re just going to Pavlovianly train others to ignore the signal.

Since the university will never yield on its illogical anti-gun policy (if some unhinged individual wants to kill lots of people, where better to do it than a place that doesn’t allow its law-abiding residents to return fire), it should at least clarify its policies on less lethal yet equally effective tools. The Kimber JPX is a high-velocity, subject-specific chemical pistol packed into a small instrument that discharges at 270 mph, putting an end to any confrontation up to two-dozen feet away and, hopefully, before it can escalate. However it is L-shaped and mildly resembles a gun. Couple that with an unclear stance on chemical repellants, and that idea is toast. Similarly, Tasers are not covered in the weapons policy.

The school needs to step up to the plate and take on the crime that inevitably hits very close to Washington University’s campus. It would be to everybody’s benefit if the university offers an intensive defensive combat class and clarifies its policies regarding less-than-lethal arms.