On Feb. 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School became synonymous with tragedy when a former student entered the school armed and began firing.
The shooting, which resulted in 17 fatalities, was not an isolated incident—nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety found that there were 160 incidences of gunfire on school campuses from 2013-15, with almost 50 percent taking place on college and university campuses. In the wake of this most recent tragedy, one Duke professor expressed skepticism about whether the University is properly prepared for imminent security threats such as active shooter situations.
“In my @DukeU classroom: zero place to hide. In 10 years, faculty (as far as I know) have never drilled,” wrote Robin Kirk, faculty co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, in a February tweet.
Kirk, also a lecturer in cultural anthropology, argued that the current policies in place at the University are not enough.
“I understand we're a private university, so technically firearms are not allowed on campus, but it’s not difficult to imagine where someone would bring one and use it before security could really respond,” she said. “I wish that we collectively—students, staff, and faculty—had some training about what to do in our respective spaces.”
According to the Duke University Emergency Management Plan, the University's outdoor siren system will begin sounding if an armed and dangerous person is on campus or in the area.
“If a serious incident occurs that causes an immediate threat to the campus, the first responders to the scene are usually [Duke University Police Department] and the Durham Fire Department and they typically respond and work together to manage the incident,” the plan states.
DUPD could not be reached in time for publication.
The Alert Carolina system at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill likewise includes an outdoor emergency siren that serves as an alert for various security threats, including an “armed and dangerous person in the area.”
Randy Young, media relations manager for UNC Public Safety, noted that a one-button activation system is used to alert the community through outdoor sirens, a PA system, text messages, social media, web posts and email within three to four minutes of the system’s activation.
Young explained that UNC Police officers—as well as officers of other agencies—are regularly drilled in active shooter scenarios and other critical scenarios.
The role of gun control
Although preparing for the worst is necessary, some people argue that school shootings may be prevented through gun control legislation. Kirk noted how the University must play a role in this wider national conversation.
“Campuses of all sorts, including Duke, have a real obvious interest in weighing in on gun control. The only way we’re going to deal with this effectively is to decrease the number of guns," Kirk said.
Jeffrey Swanson, professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, has researched laws and policies to reduce firearms violence.
Swanson explained that the mental illness explanation that is often employed after school shootings is too facile and distorts our view of a larger “drip, drip, drip” problem of gun violence.
Instead, Swanson focuses on the larger issue of the prevalence and easy access of guns in general. On a day that a mass shooting occurs in one place, 100 others die around the country as a result of a gun, Swanson noted.
“I’ve been advocating for a new kind of state law that gives law enforcement clear legal authority to preemptively remove firearms before someone has committed a crime, even if they could pass a background check,” Swanson said.
These state laws, referred to collectively as “red flag laws,” have been passed in five states—Connecticut, Oregon, California, Washington and Indiana. If people around an individual provide specific information showing that the person poses a risk, and two police officers agree that there is probable cause to believe that the person is an imminent threat, they submit a short affidavit of the proof to a judge. If the judge agrees with the officers, a warrant is issued to remove all firearms from the individual.
“Due process comes in,” Swanson said. “Within two weeks, in Connecticut, there is a court hearing in front of a judge where evidence is presented, and the state must show convincing evidence that the person poses a risk. The guns can be retained for a year or are given back immediately.”
According to Swanson’s study on the effectiveness of risk-based gun removal laws in Connecticut, for every 10 to 20 risk warrant actions taken, with an average of seven firearms being removed in each act, one life is saved through averted suicide.
“This idea is getting a lot of traction from both sides of the political spectrum. Some say 'people kill people,' and this law is precisely about the people at risk,” Swanson said. “It also gives family members and friends an avenue for something to do if there is someone you’re really worried about.”
Less than a week after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, North Carolina District 30 Representative Marcia Morey, who represents parts of Durham, revealed plans for new state legislation.
The gun violence restraining order proposal would give judges in North Carolina a tool similar to domestic violence restraining orders to temporarily but rapidly remove weapons from the hands of people exhibiting threatening or dangerous behavior.
In addition, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bill Nelson (R-Fla.) announced on March 7 that they are introducing a bill for federal legislation to motivate states to create red flag laws or gun violence restraining order laws in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas tragedy.
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