May 1, 2008

Gun Control Elicits Safety Concerns

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This is the third and final part of a series of articles examining gun control at Cornell, in the United States and in countries around the world.

Cornell is a safe place to be — at least it appears that way. Isolated in Upstate New York, it is removed from the violence typically associated with cities. But how safe is Cornell?
Isolation does not necessarily guarantee safety. In 1983, a gunman murdered two students in their dormitory room, slipping into the dormitory unnoticed with a rifle. Two years ago, a white Cornell student stabbed a black student from Union College in a racially motivated hate crime.
While incidences of violence have been few and far between, safety is not a given. In light of the recent acts of gun violence at college campuses across the nation, many Cornellians have experienced anxiety over their safety following these events.
In an informal survey conducted by The Sun, 72 percent of students polled believed that a school shooting was a genuine threat on the Cornell campus.
Despite this fear, the Cornell community can be assured that these concerns were being addressed long before Virginia Tech. However, Rich McDaniel, vice president of risk management and public safety, said that Virginia Tech really marshaled the movement to implement more mass notification systems. Even so, McDaniel said, “We had a mass notification system in place even before Virginia Tech.”
Cornell has implemented an alert system that sends messages to students by way of e-mail, text messages and voice messages. Though initially there were several difficulties regarding time delays with text messages, McDaniel said that there is now at most a 20-minute delay until a student receives the alert after it is sent out.
“We’re declaring the text messaging system a success,” he said.
Additionally, the voice messaging system is capable of delivering 6,000 messages in the span of 12 minutes.
“If something were to happen of immediate concern [on Cornell’s campus] it would take less than three minutes to get on the scene,” said Curtis Ostrander, associate vice president of the CUPD.
After Virginia Tech, many colleges sought to address how their police respond to active shooters and Cornell is no different.
Ostrander said, in the event of an armed subject on campus, “The first four officers on the scene go straight for the active shooter.”
Among the other measures the University has implemented to notify the Cornell community include a new siren system, which Ostrander compared to a large PA system.
He explained that the University installed a siren at four different points on Cornell’s campus, which covers over 750 acres. The University tested the sirens yesterday around 11 a.m. The sirens could be heard in Collegetown.
Along with these security measures the school has taken, some students have sought to take their protection in their own hands by advocating a policy of conceal and carry, sparking a debate across campuses around the country.
Ahmed Salem ’08, chairman of the Cornell College Republicans, believes that “We do have a wave of violence that can’t be ignored and Cornell’s services, while greatly appreciated, can’t protect us in all places at all times.”
Recently, several students on campus pushed the S.A. to pass a resolution that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus. However, this resolution failed when put to vote early last March.
The resolution came under heavy scrutiny on campus by both faculty and students who claimed that more harm than good would arise from such a policy.
Ostrander commented, “Generally in New York State, there is not a lot of training involved to carry a pistol, only background checks … This is not an environment for students or anybody to carry guns.”
McDaniel elaborated, “Absent that training, the risks are much higher.”
Despite the mixed feelings toward firearms, in the same poll, many students said they believed individuals had the right to carry a gun. However, when asked if citizens should have to access assault weapons, referring to semiautomatic weapons, 80 percent responded no.
The poll also found that 50 percent of those surveyed believed that the school has done enough to safeguard the campus against a school shooting.
“No matter how good my lock is you can you still pick it. You need to balance the amount of efforts to put people at ease with actual security,” said Randy Lariar ’08, outgoing president of the Cornell Democrats. “They are responding to the [threat] and trying new things. I do feel secure.”
Nevertheless, some still feel that Cornell’s security measures are not adequate.
“I would ask the administration if it is fair that they’ve taken away our ability to defend ourselves when it is clear that they have been incapable of protecting us in all places at all times,” said Salem.
Both Ostrander and McDaniel urged students to become “stakeholders in their personal safety” and advocated more citizen involvement.
Others emphasized the importance of being vigilant of those around them for warning signs.
“Cornell and Virginia Tech have a lot in common — there’s a lot of people in a high-stress environment similar to Virginia Tech” said Bryce Robertson ’10. “People think it’s not going to happen, but we need to vigilant.”