Western’s gun policy has generated discussion after an incident involving a man with a gun on campus was reported to students via the Western Alert System on Sunday, May 15.
In response, Western police searched campus for 90 minutes before concluding he was nowhere to be found. Another Western Alert was sent out around 7 p.m. reporting the missing man.
The gunman was spotted at Back2Bellingham’s car show, Ridin’ Low in the 360, in Red Square, and the alert went out at 4 p.m. After an argument between two groups of people, a witness told university police one member of the argument, the suspect, pulled up his shirt to flash a gun tucked in his waistband.
“If there’s a shooter on campus, I’m not just going to play victim.”
Junior Sean Rita
The possession of firearms, ammunition, explosives or any other object that has the capability to cause bodily injury or damage to property is prohibited by Western’s Student Rights and Responsibility code. Western’ enhanced by Washington State law WAC 516-21-220, which prohibits the same objects, anything from a firearm to an airsoft gun, at universities in the state.
If a student is suspected to have a gun in their possession, it will be removed as soon as possible by University Police, and a follow-up meeting will be scheduled with the Office of Student Life. Punitive measures will be decided based on the person’s motivation to bring a weapon as well as what the weapon itself might be.
Junior Sean Rita was followed on his way home from campus. The man following him began threatening Rita from about a foot away from his face. The pepper spray Rita usually keeps in his pocket was left in his backpack that day, leaving him unarmed.
“I’m not the biggest guy, and I’m not a physical person,” Rita said. “People should have that option [to carry a gun] as a last resort.”
The event inspired Rita to create the Students for Concealed Carry club to inform students on the importance of gun safety and why students should be allowed to carry guns on campus for self-defense. Their goal is to change WAC 516-21-220 so students are allowed to bring concealed weapons on campus.
The Assistant Dean of Students Michael Sledge does not anticipate a change in the law in the future. Sledge said there have been some issues with people bringing weapons on campus, but these cases usually involve students in on campus housing that did not fully understand Western’s policy.
Some students think only professors should be allowed to carry a gun on campus in the case of a shooting.
“People should have that option [to carry a gun] as a last resort.”
Junior Sean Rita
“In general, people should have guns for self-defense if they don’t have a bad record and they qualify,” junior Erica Gilland said. “But there’s been so many school shootings all over that it’s kind of scary to think that these 19-year-olds could have guns.”
Rita disagrees and argues people will bring guns on campus even if there are gun-free laws in place. He advocates that WAC 516-21-220 is a violation of a student’s second-amendment right to restrict them from carrying a gun on campus.
“If there’s a shooter on campus, I’m not just going to play victim,” Rita said.
If you or someone you know suspects a person is in possession of a gun on campus, contact University Police at (360) 350-3911.