Jarred Stancil: In wake of Navy Yard shooting, it’s time to arm UPD officers

In the wake of Monday’s tragic shooting at Navy Yard, many people have rallied in favor of stricter gun laws, as is typically the case.

While immediately denouncing gun ownership and supporting tighter regulations might seem like the clear position to take after a shooting of this magnitude, the solution for the District – and our campus – is quite the opposite.

The District has some of the most stringent gun laws in the country, barring people from carrying concealed or open firearms, so you would think that we should feel safe and secure within the confines of the Beltway.

Clearly, we are not. A man with a long history of mental instability was able to transport a shotgun through the city, gain access to a gun-free military base and open fire on a crowd of people, killing 12.

But if District authorities won’t allow their residents to carry guns to defend themselves, at the very least, trained law enforcement officials must be equipped with guns to protect us. For GW students, that means the University Police Department, where officers don’t carry much more than pepper spray and handcuffs.

UPD has recently talked of expanding its authority to break up loud parties outside of GW campus boundaries. But it’s turning away from its primary mission: ensuring safety. Instead, UPD should focus its efforts on keeping students safe on campus by petitioning for the right to bear arms.

Despite serving as our primary enforcer of law and order, UPD has little ability to respond effectively to violent crime on campus, especially if these events were to involve deadly weapons. Granted, Metropolitan Police Department is armed and able to come to our aid. But UPD is our first line of defense. And right now, it’s frighteningly weak.

GW wouldn’t be the first to arm our campus police, since the call for armed university patrol officers has gained momentum recently.

Many states, including Colorado and Virginia, allow their schools’ campus police officers to carry weapons and share jurisdiction with the local police. Wayne State University – in the heart of Detroit – arms its officers. Penn State University police carry guns.

And GW has had this debate before, when administrators and consultants determined it was too risky in 2009. That decision came despite the University’s former police chief calling on campuses to arm officers.

Now is the time to reconsider.

These officers are extensively trained, often hired by the state or through an agency affiliated with the state, and held to the same standard as any other police department, as they should be.

If we are going to trust UPD with our protection, we should trust officers to carry firearms responsibly. It’s a move GW should make now to avoid a messy situation later.

This past April, campus police at the University of Rhode Island responded to the threat of a gunman with pepper spray and batons, causing an uproar over their ineffectiveness had the threat been real. State police did not arrive for another 20 minutes.

Remember, UPD officers are real members of the police force with the responsibility to make arrests and enforce order. These aren’t mall cops. Of course, GW should ensure the highest standard of training and institute strict standards to regulate which officers to arm.

Although homicides decreased in D.C. in 2012, violent crime remains all too real, as we saw Monday. With students unable to defend themselves, we need every tool in place to ensure that campus police can keep us safe.

The writer is a sophomore majoring in international affairs.

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