National attention turns back to school safety, campus gun control

The nation’s gun debate has intensified since the Parkland school shooting on Feb. 14

Anthony Lorson, News Writer

The recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School intensified the ongoing national conversation about school safety and gun control—a conversation that has now spread to the campus of Washington and Lee.

Many members of the community are now asking, “What if it had happened here?”

“[We] have done training with local law enforcement and the plan is reviewed on an annual basis,” Public Safety Director Ethan Kipnes said, describing Washington and Lee’s emergency response preparedness.

The university’s emergency management plan states that if there is an active shooter on campus, students should first call 911. Then, if it’s safe to evacuate, evacuate quickly, and if not, seek shelter nearby.

Kipnes said that aside from these preliminary instructions, there is a wide range of suggestions for what kind of action to take next based on the situation.

“The plan is left intentionally flexible because of the high variability of characteristics these situations have,” Kipnes said.

But Kipnes said some elements of response are always important.

“[The] main part of the plan is timely communication to those on campus,” he said.

Public Safety communicates with students primarily through the campus’s General Alerts system. Every student receives General Alerts through email, text or both.

Washington and Lee is also one of many college campuses that uses the LiveSafe application to monitor activity on campus and inform students. The LiveSafe app sends students real-time campus safety notices.

Much of Washington and Lee’s emergency resource information is also available through the app. It separates the different procedures into incident-specific categories to keep the process straightforward and response times short.

Kipnes said Public Safety is also planning on having a live training drill on campus this August.

“Most importantly, think about these types of things and how you would respond to them when going about your day,” he said. “The more you practice, the more proficient you become.”

The only people permitted to possess weapons on campus are law enforcement officers, which Kipnes said was an intentional choice by Washington and Lee administrators.   

“They’ve made a very conscious decision to have Public Safety presented in the way it is,” Kipnes said.

He said Public Safety depends on the trust of the Washington and Lee community in order for officers to do their jobs effectively. Arming Public Safety officers, Kipnes said, runs the risk of undermining that trust.

Students on both sides of the gun control issue have weighed in on and continue to advocate for their respective views.

Amnesty International will be holding a walkout called March For Our Lives on March 14. Participating students will leave their classes for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 lives lost in last month’s Parkland, Fla. school shooting and protest gun violence in America more generally.

“The way the government is reacting to this tragedy is terrible. The fact remains that when a country restricts gun possession, mass shootings go down,” Rinn Joireman, ‘21, said. “Look at the stats.”

Other students believe university members would be safer if students were allowed to carry concealed weapons.

“As it stands, there is a complete prohibition on the possession of firearms and ammunition [on Washington and Lee’s campus], with the exception of police officers,” Douglas Ciampi, ‘19, wrote in a recent article for The Spectator:

“It is my opinion that this policy only serves to harm the student body, and needlessly and recklessly put the lives of students at risk… I would like to see students possessing a valid license to carry a concealed firearm from either Virginia or a state that Virginia recognizes, be allowed to carry, in a concealed fashion, firearms on campus with restrictions on how those firearms are stored during non-class hours.”

Utah and Texas have already adopted specific policies for carrying concealed weapons on their public college campuses.

Ciampi said Washington and Lee should adopt a policy for concealed carrying because it is one of the most trusting campuses in the nation.

“We have a very open campus and if you have bad intentions, there isn’t much stopping you,” Ciampi said.