Want to ‘Sell’ Security?  Be Realistic About the Risks of Gun Violence

Exaggerating the likelihood of tragedies will backfire and put your campus in greater danger.
Published: September 18, 2014

As a journalist covering campus security, law enforcement and emergency management, I frequently come across claims that institutions of higher education are dangerous places.

Case in point: Oklahoma City state representative John Enns’ recent comments in the Oklahoman. As part of his justification for licensed gun owners to be able to carry firearms on college campuses he claimed, “For anyone to say our college campuses are safe, that’s totally not true.”

Enns’ statement is false. In the case of incidents involving active shooters, although a recent study by the FBI indicates the rate of these crimes in the nation overall may be higher than before, the chances of a person being killed by an active shooter on campus are still extremely small. You are more likely to be struck by lightning.

With regard to the rate of overall crime reported on college campuses, it is very difficult to obtain accurate statistics. I suspect the rate is probably higher than before and will continue to rise. I’d be willing to wager, however, that the increase is most likely due to institutions of higher ed being more forthcoming in reporting incidents (especially sexual violence) because they are being compelled to do so by laws like the Clery Act and Title IX. If anything, campuses are safer now that our nation is focusing on security and Clery/Title IX compliance.

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The chances of a person being killed by an active shooter on a campus are still extremely small.

I believe we can attribute the general public’s misperception that college campuses are teeming with active shooters to the 24-7 news media coverage that is laser focused on these terrible but statistically rare tragedies. Combine this with the fact that laws like the Clery Act and Title IX are having the positive effect of more campus crimes being reported, and I can understand why the general public might naively believe that colleges are cesspools of violence.

As far as Enns’ beliefs and motives are concerned, I don’t know. The optimistic side of me wants to believe he believes what he says, although I’m not as inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt considering he is a politician trolling for votes. I do know that putting weapons in the hands of students, faculty and administrators will expose campuses to much greater risk.

If you are a campus protection professional, I certainly hope you aren’t using scare tactics to obtain more support for your security and safety programs. If you are, I can practically guarantee that you will lose credibility with the very administrators and stakeholders who can provide (or withhold) the resources you need to protect your campuses. You will then be endangering your institution, not to mention your own career.

The good news in all of this is that our nation is paying much closer attention to campus safety issues than ever before. With this new-found interest, however, folks unfamiliar with college security (and law enforcement and emergency management in general) are weighing in on the subject with limited or even bad information. They are bound to make mistakes and come to erroneous – even dangerous – conclusions, as in Enns’ case.

The job for those of us who do understand these issues, then, is to be the voice of reason and, most importantly, the source of accurate information. Hopefully the rest of America, including our politicians, will listen.

Photo: ThinkStock


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