Safety doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.
Student and two-year Army veteran Mitch Keith said he’s owned a concealed carry permit for seven years because it means constant protection for him, his wife and his children. “If there’s something that’s going to happen, I’d rather have a chance to live than the automatic assumption that I’m dying,” Keith said.
For student Jenifer Banceu, firearms are a part of her family history. She grew up having to carry the weight of the gun in her father’s coat pocket which felt like 300 pounds to an 8-year-old. “It was just a huge responsibility for the whole family, the fact that he carried,” Banceu said. During danger she feels safest hiding because weapons can be unpredictable, she said.
Students can carry a concealed weapon on Clark’s campus, but Clark’s security officers don’t because Washington is one of the many states that prohibits it. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 10 states have laws allowing security officers to conceal weapons on community college campuses.
“Your security guards aren’t armed so therefore the protection of the citizens is decreased tremendously,” Keith said. “I would definitely rather have that safety blanket than say ‘well we’re screwed, so I hope you guys can get out that window.’ I don’t even know if the windows here at Clark open.”
He said he’s passionate about people being properly trained before carrying firearms but believes it’s an injustice for the security force to not be armed. “Bare minimum, I would have two [police] officers on a rotating schedule that are here for at least two to four hours at the same time a day during major class periods,” he said.
Keith said he believes a stigma could form in approaching an officer because some students feel uncomfortable with guns on campus, yet their presence, he said, is more important.
“People are made to believe that ‘oh my god it’s a gun I’m so scared,’” Keith said. “At the end of the day you could say the same thing about a car.”
Director of Security and Safety Mike See said this divide in students poses a concern in hiring armed officers.
“We always hope that you’re more comfortable with us after the interaction than you were before,” See said. “If the simple fact that somebody has a particular tool on their belt, if that’s a barrier to communication, if it’s a barrier to building that trust, that’s something we have to be cautious about.”
He said creating an approachable staff is important in Clark’s security so students can express concerns and issues. See said because students come from different generations and backgrounds, he doesn’t know how they would react.
“Until I went to kindergarten, I didn’t realize that everybody’s dad wasn’t a cop,” he said. “Because that’s all I knew.”
Clark could integrate hired police officers into their security staff to carry guns, but because Clark is statistically a safe campus with no signs of dangerous events happening, See said it wouldn’t be necessary.
Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Belden said administrators discussed hiring police officers a few years ago and concluded that it would cost around $125,000 annually. He said they discontinued the discussion because of an impasse and didn’t reallocate the funds needed.
Belden said there’s a heightened awareness from shootings across the country, but student surveys, conversations with the ASCC and Clark’s annual security report show the campus is secure.
Belden said Clark has strong ties with the Vancouver Police Department, ensuring a short response time in the event of a shooting. Belden advises students to to be vigilant through Clark’s Rave alert system.
“It’s difficult to say this because if ever there’s a situation, people are always going to look back and say ‘you had the opportunity to do this and you didn’t do it,’” Belden said.
He said it’s important to reassure students and faculty after major incidents like those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and the lockdown at Highline College in Washington on Feb. 16.
After the shooting at Central Michigan University on March 2, Vice President of Administrative Services Bob Williamson emailed the college community about Clark’s emergency procedures during a shooting, which are listed on Clark’s website.
The website’s last two points ask students to be ready during hiding and “gather anything that could potentially be used as a weapon to defend yourself” in the event that a shooter enters the room. It also reminds students that security is unarmed and “WILL NOT enter the area without the escort of police officers.”
Belden isn’t convinced that armed officers would be a quick solution. “We don’t have a large security force here, so would they be in the right place at the right time more so than a police officer?” Belden said.
Student Banceu said her high school had a police officer roaming the halls and she’s surprised Clark doesn’t have the same.
Keith said he decided not to carry his concealed weapon on campus, though he didn’t know it was allowed to begin with.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says on its webpage, “All 50 states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons if they meet certain state requirements.” However, Clark has no further rules requiring students to inform administration about their weapons.
Belden said administration encourages students not to bring weapons to campus, “but everywhere we go in our daily life we know that there are individuals in the state of Washington that have a weapons permit and maybe have a weapon on their person.”
Banceu said Clark should consider offering a class for those who carry concealed firearms on campus because it’s likely many of them have not had training. “They should see the statistics of how many people miss,” she said.
She said she’d rather die than fire a shot that harmed another person, which is another important impact to teach in a class.
“Really think about it. Are you willing to take a life?” Banceu said. “Do you want to live with that feeling later?”
Banceu said starting conversations is one of the best routes, while Keith said students need to be properly protected.
“There’s no amount of gun laws that’s going to change someone if they have the determination to go and kill somebody,” he said. Though it may be a random act, Keith said, the risk is always there.
“If I died here at school today my family would be devastated,” he said. “The first question I know my wife’s going to ask is ‘where the hell was the protection?’”
*According to the ASCC, Dean Of Student Engagement, Cath Busha will host an open discussion about school shootings for faculty and students on March 16 from 12-1 p.m.*