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Amid gun debate, UM moving to keep campus safe

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Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 12:26 am | Updated: 10:53 pm, Wed Feb 20, 2013.

Amid recent school shootings and raised gun awareness, the University of Montana has no plans to change its official gun policy. But the school is taking steps toward assuring safety on campus.

Last semester, all registered firearms were moved out of the residence halls and into the Office of Public Safety gunroom in the Physical Plant building. This semester, the administration will try to practice new emergency training techniques, testing group response to emergencies. 

These exercises allow faculty members to practice emergency scenarios and work through necessary steps and decisions. A large-scale exercise would involve the campus and Missoula community, but often take many resources and up to a year of planning. 

So far, there have only been preliminary discussions and no official plans have been made. 

“We always need to be prepared,” said Christine Fiore, co-chair of the Crisis Intervention and Referral Team. “We need to always evaluate whether what we have in mind is a good plan, if it needs to be changed, who needs to be added and what practices need to be modified.” 

According to Director of Residence Life Sandra Schoonover, the push to move all firearms into the gunroom last semester was spurred by a desire to keep students safe.  The main desks in residence halls are often staffed by students who have little to no gun experience and wouldn’t know the difference between a loaded and unloaded gun, Schoonover said.

“It was really just taking a look at the fact that we want to be able to accommodate students, so how can we do that in the safest way possible for everyone involved?” Schoonover said.

When the move happened, there were about 70 firearms locked up in the residence halls, Schoonover said.  That was in the fall, during the peak of hunting season.  Now there are only about 20.

In August 2011, a UM student was injured on campus in an accidental shooting. Chief of University Police Gary Taylor said the administration already planned to move all firearms out of the residence halls before the accident happened.

There is no limit to the number of guns a student can register on campus.  Students can check out their firearms at any time, but must present a photo ID.  The Office of Public Safety is open 24/7 for students taking out and bringing back their firearms.

Taylor said students aren’t required to keep their guns locked up on campus, but the gunroom in the plant is the safest option for students with firearms.

“We just don’t want them stored in dorms or cars so they’re not easily accessible to someone we don’t want using them,” Taylor said. 

In July 2012, a man shot and killed 12 people and wounded 58 others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.  This December, a man shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The mass shootings have reignited the national gun debate regarding gun control.

Rhondie Voorhees, Dean of Students and member of the Crisis Intervention and Response Team, said these recent shootings have prompted dialog and awareness within CIRT and the university as a whole.  

“There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from situations like that,” Voorhees said. “The best tool is to be proactive and aware of what’s going on.”

Fiore said UM is working with the City of Missoula to make sure the University’s emergency plans are effective. Administrators also attend trainings to make sure everyone is clear on their rolls in case of an emergency of any kind.

“We certainly talk about the shootings in response to how our plan is set to address this situation,” Fiore said. “But our preparedness needs to encompass all kinds of emergencies and disasters and a shooting is only one.” 

grace.ryan@umontana.edu

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