Dear Campus Security Commission,
My name is Paul Bueno de Mesquita. I am a professor of psychology here at URI and also have served as the Director of the URI Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies for the past 5 years. I have been a psychologist and professor working with schools and universities for over 30 years and much of my professional and academic work has focused on violence prevention.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input and opinion on the important question of whether or not to arm campus police at URI.
I would like to begin my remarks first by recognizing our URI campus police and security force and acknowledging their work over many years in protecting our campus and students using deliberate and measured approaches based on their training and skill. We thank them for their service and the safe campus that they provide to us each and every day.
At the Center for Nonviolence, we teach and train hundreds of individuals each year in the methods and strategies of conflict resolution using nonviolence approaches. Over the last decade the Center has trained and certified thousands of individuals in nonviolence. Many of these trainees have been law enforcement officers and individuals working with violent populations in jails and prisons, as well as out in communities.
We know historically that nonviolence is a “force more powerful than any means of violence.” We know that violence has never been the cause of anything constructive in society. Violence has never been responsible for productive work, meaningful education and positive personal development. In our approach to nonviolence, we begin by recognizing the conflicts and problems that need to be solved. In this question of whether or not campus police should be armed, it is unclear what specific problem are we attempting to solve. Without clear and specific problem identification, our attempts to solve things by arming the campus police might leave us simply “shooting in the dark.”
Each year in the US, nearly 3 million guns are manufactured. It is estimated that half of all homes in the country contain a handgun or a gun of some type. Adolescents can legally purchase guns before they are allowed to purchase alcohol in many states. This culture of violence becomes more and more acceptable as part of our everyday lives, imbedded in our psyche early in our development in a way that desensitizes us and persuades us that violence and the use of guns are the best solutions to solving the problem of violence in our society. The proliferation of weapons in a culture overflowing with violent images and violent behaviors leads to what can only be described as an epidemic of gun deaths each year. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 30,000 gun related deaths occur each year. For each victim of gun violence twice as many are wounded, many critically injured never to fully recover and return to productive lives. Every year, approximately 100,000 Americans are victims of gun violence, physically and psychologically. Another large percentage of victims is youth between the ages of 15-24 years of age, a demographic including the traditional college age young adult.
Here at the University of RI, our campus community is an example of a more peaceful, nonviolent way of living and learning together. Our campus sets a striking example for other universities in RI and across the nation of a community committed to nonviolent methods of conflict resolution. We know that guns have never helped to build a safer community. Can we be certain that arming our campus police with weapons of deadly force will make our campus safer? In the heat of a crisis or a false alarm of the kind that happened at URI last month, should we not be thankful that our security force was not armed and did not have to face the situation with the potential for unknowingly or accidentally firing at an innocent student holding a plastic assault weapon or pointing weapons into a crowded lecture hall with students in mass panic scrambling for exits.
The United States is one of the most weaponized countries in the world. And sadly we are also recognized as one of the most violent. For parents who believe that campus police should be armed with deadly force in order to protect their sons and daughters, we raise the question of whether this will result in a reality of safety or really just an illusion of safety.
We know that each year a number of innocent citizens are wounded, injured, or even killed through accidental shootings. Tragically, police officers often find themselves the victims of their own weapons.
Mass shooting tragedies like the school shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007 and Northern Illinois University in February 2008 strike fear into our hearts, none more so than that of the children and teachers in Newtown in our neighboring state of Connecticut. These events have been studied and investigations have shown that attempts to prevent such tragedies do not involve an armed campus police force. As we are all aware, university campuses where the most violent acts have occurred already had a police force that was armed and prepared to use deadly force. Unfortunately, the campus police at VA Tech or Northern IL were unable to prevent or even effectively intervene in these incidents. If anything, their guns may have given them a false sense of security. Armed campus police on these campuses may have led parents to believe that their sons and daughters were safer there than on an unarmed campus like URI. In actuality armed campus police made no difference in preventing or solving the tragic problems of violence that occurred on those campuses. In reviewing thirteen shooting incidents on college campuses in 2013 alone, armed police responding with weapons ready to use deadly force did little to prevent or to protect nearby students.
There is no clear research evidence, statistical data, or cause-effect conclusions from scientific studies that would support the proposed policies of arming police as a way of increasing security and safety for students at the University of Rhode Island. In fact, the use of guns to respond to a potential mass shooter is rarely effective, recalling incidents such as Columbine, Aurora, and Tucson. The most dangerous cities in the US, certainly have the most well-armed police forces, yet their rates of gun violence have not decreased because of this. Several countries such as the UK and Australia have demonstrated that implementing and enforcing stronger gun control laws, combined with community policing policies and procedures without weapons of deadly force can be effective in keeping the public safe and actually reduce the incidence of gun violence.
Therefore, if we are serious about having safer college and university campuses in Rhode Island, we should expand these public hearings to include citizen input on several relevant initiatives:
1). Review state and local gun laws and close any possible loopholes that might permit the sale and purchase of automatic assault type weapons, and high capacity magazines of the kind used in recent shooting, including more effective registration and background checks that address previous criminal record and mental instability.
2). Provide the kind of mental health screening and support services both on campus and in communities to identify and treat individuals who are predisposed to violence or may be at risk of psychiatric or psychological disorders that would render them out of control and a danger to self and others, should they possess or have access to a weapon.
3). Institute a state-wide educational policy to require Rhode Island schools to provide a nonviolence curriculum based on constructive positive methods to resolve interpersonal conflict associated with all forms of violence that may occur at all societal levels.
4). Institute the same safety policies and regulations that exist at every public education facility and transportation center across the country, that is prohibit the carrying of “look-alike” plastic weapons on all campuses, as well as war games that mimic threatening behaviors. If it is not permitted in airports or other school settings, why should it be allowed on our campus?
5) Explore ways to expand and strengthen the existing relationships with local South Kingstown law enforcement and Rhode Island State Police to improve communication, planning, coordination, patrols, and crisis response times.
The Center for Nonviolence and our students, staff, and faculty associates certainly favor methods of protecting our campus security force, through protective equipment such as body armor, as well as arming them with the latest and most effective non-lethal weapons and technology available to not only respond but to prevent violence.
Finally, we also wish to raise questions about the cost of arming campus police, the additional equipment, maintenance, and training. If we are serious about creating a safe campus environment, are we prepared to make an equivalent investment in the kinds of early warning and timely response support services on our campus that have been shown to actually prevent and reduce violence. I am confident that a coalition of students, faculty and administrative staff working with our campus police, our counseling center, health services, disability services, along with several other relevant campus organizations and programs. Together with our Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, these campus community stakeholders and resources can build a strong and effective network of support services that would employ early screening and identification strategies to defuse the potentially violent and deadly conflicts and to solve the real problems of violence that threaten the safety of our campus. Our Center is prepared to offer leadership in the development of such a coalition and to help facilitate such a campus-wide effort.
Dr. King taught us that “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Applied to our campus, we must say that guns cannot drive out gun violence. Let us embrace alternatives to violence and not respond impulsively out of fear with guns to combat the threat of gun violence.
We appreciate your carefully listening to our perspective. Thank you for your time and efforts to ensure a safe and peaceful university campus.
Paul Bueno de Mesquita, Ph.D.