On a chilly February morning in 2014, a man with a gun walked into Bessey Hall, a classroom building near the center of Michigan State University’s campus.
The incident was quickly reported to police, who sent an alert to every cellphone on campus warning of a possible shooter.
“We were all so ill-prepared,” said Jack Ritchey, an MSU student inside Bessey that day. “The only thing we thought to do was barricade the door. Some people were genuinely afraid, others weren’t taking the threat seriously.”
The incident turned out to be a misunderstanding — an ROTC student had carried an exposed training weapon into the building — but it highlights a problem facing college campuses. In 2015, there were 23 shootings on college campuses in the United States, according to a count by Time magazine.
‘Run Hide Fight’
Just before 10 a.m. on Nov. 8, a silver Honda Civic sedan jumped the curb outside an Ohio State University classroom building, running into several people before crashing into a wall. The driver, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Somali-born refugee who moved to the United States in 2014, then began slashing nearby pedestrians with a butcher knife. Thirteen people were injured before a police officer shot and killed Artan.
As the event played out, Ohio State emergency teams sent out an emergency notification for students and staff to shelter in place. Early reports indicated there as a possible shooter, although Artan did not have gun. Ohio State’s official policy for such incidents, which mirrors the recommendation of emergency responders at many other colleges, is to encourage people to “Run Hide Fight.” It’s a phrase registered to the city of Houston used to promote an emergency response plan encouraging anyone in an active shooter situation to find an escape route, hide if escape isn’t possible and to fight a shooter if in imminent danger.
Michigan State uses the same protocol, which puts an emphasis on the role of police to stop and apprehend a shooter. Law enforcement do not encourage people to engage a shooter unless there’s no other choice.
“Survival mindset is awareness, understanding the situation, rehearsal and knowing where every exit is,” Capt. Doug Monette of the MSU Police Department said. “If you ever have to fight, throw everything: books, back packs; make noises, scream. There are no rules to a fight. Have the mindset of, ‘I will survive, I will fight and I will win.’”
Celia Cosme-Brooks, a facilities manager at the MSU Union, supervises tens of students and five full-time staff members. If there’s an active shooter, Brooks said her main responsibility is her own safety.
Brooks remembers when the Union locked down after the ROTC man walked into Bessey Hall. She said some supervisors weren’t prepared and mistakes were made.
“When we locked down the Union, some supervisors were calling lost students to come hide in their office,” Brooks said. “That puts the supervisor and her co-workers in danger because she could have accidently invited the shooter.”
Who can carry?
But some people on college campuses think individuals should be able to take a more active role. Shootings and other acts of violence on college campuses are one reason why students should be able to carry firearms on campus, said Shelby Flatt, the director of Students for Concealed Carry in Michigan.
“We believe that all individuals who are legally licensed should be allowed to conceal carry while on campus,” Flatt said. “We believe that concealed carry allows for an advantage for all individuals over a potential attacker. We believe that it would greatly decrease crime on campuses and the surrounding neighborhood.”
MSU bans students from can possessing a firearm on campus, university spokesman Jason Cody said. Employees, too, are prohibited from having a firearm on campus.
Those with a concealed carry weapons permit, and are not a student or faculty member, may have a gun on campus, as long as it remains concealed and is kept outside of “pistol-free zones,” which include residence halls, classrooms, entertainment venues and sports arenas.
The process to get a concealed weapon permit is rigorous, Flatt said. An individual must complete a course on the handling of a weapon and pass a background check. An individual may not conceal carry until the permit is granted, Flatt said. If it is, the regulations on how an individual should physically carry a firearm are much more discreet than open carry, Flatt said.
“The weapon is effectively secured and hidden under an article of clothing or in a bag, such as a purse,” Flatt said. “In Michigan, it is against the law while concealed carrying to show that weapon at any time, unless it needs to be drawn for self-defense. You are not allowed to have the shape or outline of the weapon showing through your clothes.”
What else could be done?
Brooks, who has supervised the Union for nearly 10 years, said an armed guard at every prominent building on campus could be another solution, as long as the guard is out of sight, monitoring cameras that placed in public areas of buildings.
“If there was a guard behind the cameras, then there would be more safety, and students wouldn’t have to mingle with so many armed guards, which would cause too much angst,” Brooks said. “But it seems too difficult to implement.”