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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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FRESHFARM workers ratify union agreement
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 15, 2024

Staff Editorial: Arming GWPD isn’t the answer to gun violence

The call to “do something” is an all-too-familiar part of the cycle of grief and outrage that follows mass shootings in this country. When the bursts of gunfire at schools, businesses and places of worship come to a tragic end, we look toward those in power to take decisive action. From Capitol Hill to our own community at GW, what can we do to stop gun violence?

Officials told all of us their answer earlier this month when they announced the GW Police Department will arm about 20 of its officers with handguns this fall. Arming GWPD officers demonstrates officials’ commitment to “doing something,” but it would endanger the University community, not protect it.

Officials are gambling that the guns they place in GWPD officers’ hands will stop more violence than they beget. But the simple truth is that when universities equip their police departments with firearms, their officers may use those weapons on the very people they’re meant to protect – us. A Georgia Tech Police Department officer shot and killed a student who was believed to be holding a knife and yelling “shoot me” at officers in 2017. A single University of Chicago Police Department officer shot a student wielding a metal pole in 2018, and that same officer shot another student who was armed with a gun in 2022. Both UChicago students, who were reportedly experiencing mental health episodes at the time, survived.

Because GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus is interwoven into the rest of D.C.’s urban fabric, there’s also the chance a GWPD officer could injure or kill a passerby with no ties to the University while engaging in routine patrols and stops. Such a tragedy would not be unprecedented – a University of Cincinnati Police Department officer shot and killed Samuel DuBose, an unarmed Black man unaffiliated with the university, during a traffic stop in July 2015.

The sense of fear and unease that could taint interactions between GWPD officers and the community they serve, let alone the chances for a fatal encounter, should have given the Board of Trustees pause as they were planning this decision. Instead, officials said the Board arrived at its decision to arm GWPD officers in a little under a year and in what was practically utter secrecy. Save for a few faculty senators and student leaders, officials skipped deliberation – think town halls, feedback forms and special committees – over their plans in favor of forcefully implementing them.

After deadly shootings at the University of Virginia in November and Michigan State University in February, we too wanted GW to do something to respond to potential shootings and other violent acts on or near its campus. We encouraged officials to better publicize GW’s discussion-based active shooter training and stock buildings with kits that contain tourniquets, bandages and other medical equipment to treat traumatic injuries, like a gunshot wound, so the University would be ready to respond to a crisis.

But it’s unclear if officials see the threat to GW coming from inside or outside of it – or both. GWPD Chief James Tate told The Hatchet armed GWPD officers could have more effectively intervened in armed robberies of Canada Goose jackets on and near campus while interim University President Mark Wrighton told The Hatchet he couldn’t recall a single incident during his tenure where it would have been necessary for GWPD officers to use a firearm.

If officials are concerned that a member of the GW community could inflict violence on their peers, there are other ways they can pursue a safer, more secure University that avoids the risks inherent in arming any campus police force. Two such measures could include increasing the number of staff involved in mental health resources like those at Counseling and Psychological Services – which currently employs 10 staff clinicians and one staff psychologist – and ensuring staff respond to CARE reports quickly.

And if officials fear a more external threat, like armed criminals committing robberies and assaults around Foggy Bottom, they can put GW’s research and financial capabilities to use. The University joined 20 colleges and universities in the D.C. area last year to explore how best to address gun violence – it can take those lessons, which surely don’t include throwing more guns into the mix and work with city and community leaders to apply them to D.C.

Granted, some of these measures are more reactive than proactive. But unlike giving GWPD officers guns, there’s no chance testing the University’s blue light system or more strictly enforcing tap access – solutions that could make GW’s campus safer – end in the death of an innocent person.

In the aftermath of the shooting at UVA that killed three and injured two students, we wrote that it was OK to feel afraid, angry or numb. And in our collective sorrow, it can be all too easy to grasp for a simple solution – fight gunfire with gunfire. A previous staff editorial even called on GWPD to “hire and arm” experienced officers amid a period of turnover at the department in 2019, a stance the following editorial board rescinded in 2020 during nationwide protests over police brutality. Arming GWPD would have been wrong in 2019 – it wouldn’t have made our campus safer then, and it won’t make it safer this fall.

We need a holistic approach to campus safety, not one born of desperation and resignation over mass shootings. Twenty-odd 9 mm handguns send a message that officials know there’s a problem, but arming GWPD is no solution to gun violence. These weapons and the officers who will wield them won’t “do something” unless they’re used to stop a crisis – or to start one.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Opinions Editor Ethan Benn and Contributing Opinions Editor Julia Koscelnik, based on discussions with Sports Editor Nuria Diaz, Managing Editor Jaden DiMauro, Culture Editor Clara Duhon, Design Editor Grace Miller and Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.

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