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Citing ‘rising gun violence,’ GWU to arm campus police despite student protests

Professor: No evidence protestors’ ‘Kumbaya’ solutions protect students

George Washington University will begin arming some of its police officers this fall amid objections by some students and faculty that the move will “harm” the campus community.

But citing “rising gun violence,” administrators stated giving their police officers firearms is the only way to effectively protect the campus.

On Monday, the university said two executive supervisory officers from the GWU Police Department will be armed, and more will join them in the future if all goes well, according to a campus news release.

The ultimate plan, administrators said, is to arm about 20 of the 50 campus officers, The College Fix reported in April. Each armed officer will receive extensive training, including in implicit bias.

Leaders of the Washington, D.C. school said they believe the change will better equip officers to respond to life-threatening emergencies on campus, especially with “rising gun violence” across the region and the nation.

Responding to the announcement, GWU Law School Professor John Banzhaf said in a news release most universities arm all their campus police, and “deranged-shooter-on-campus situations elsewhere have had to be resolved by the use of deadly force.”

Banzhaf said there is no evidence protesters’ “naïve,” “Kumbaya” suggested responses to violence – such as “nonviolent communication” and “bystander intervention skills” – will protect students.

First announced in April, the decision to arm campus police quickly drew criticism from a contingent of students and faculty. Hundreds participated in a protest later that month, The Fix reported at the time.

“This is an attack on black and brown students,” the progressive campus group Students Against Imperialism wrote on Instagram in a post announcing the protest. “This is an attack on the poor and the working class. This is an attack on DC residents, who will almost certainly be brutalized by an armed GWPD.”

More than 700 people also signed a petition demanding GWU reverse the decision, arguing it “will not prevent gun violence, but rather serve to escalate conflicts.”

Opponents also asserted that arming police is “more likely to reduce safety rather than enhance it,” but Banzhaf said there is no evidence to support their claim.

“Indeed, with all the school shootings which have occurred over at least the past 20 years, they failed to cite a single situation where an armed campus police officer shot a student or faculty member on campus,” he said in his Wednesday news release.

GWU leaders, when they announced the decision Monday, repeatedly emphasized their commitment to incorporating “community input” into their safety plans.

“Some community members have voiced their concerns, and our work now is to continue to ensure our implementation is guided by community feedback,” university President Ellen Granberg said in a statement. “Ultimately, safety is our foremost priority, and this is deeply personal for each of us based on our identities and experiences.”

Granberg said she wants everyone to not only be safe but also “feel safe” on campus.

Before campus police can be armed, the university requires them to “complete implicit bias training every semester” and “de-escalation training” every month, as well as mental health response and other specific firearms training programs, according to the news release.

Along with arming officers, GWU said it also is in the process of revising its policy about the use of force “based on feedback from the community.” The revisions will include updated definitions outlining the specific circumstances in which officers may use force and a ban on chokeholds and other actions that restrict breathing, the university stated.

IMAGE: Students protest GWU’s decision to arm campus police with handguns

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.