PORT ANGELES — Students filled Peninsula College’s Pirate Union Building on Wednesday for a student-hosted forum on school gun violence, airing concerns about mass school shootings and learning what they can do to make themselves safer.
Applause erupted from the approximately 75 people who attended after an international student shared his perspective on the gun control debate.
“As a foreign student who was born in a country that has little gun violence and zero school shootings, I’m really taken aback by the stats of school shootings in America,” said Hazim Rosli, who is from Malaysia.
He was one of several students who spoke during the hour-and-a-half forum on school gun violence, which was hosted by the Associated Student Council.
The forum featured a panel of speakers, including Marty Martinez from the Campus Safety department, Cathy Engle from the Student Development department, Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith and ASC Vice President Bonnie Sires. Janet Lucas, an English professor at the college, moderated the forum.
Rosli, a sophomore at Peninsula College, serves on the Associated Student Council as the director of clubs and organizations.
He told the crowd that in Malaysia, it’s difficult for the public to access firearms.
“I cannot say the way it is in Malaysia is applicable here,” he said. “I don’t have a specific solution to how this could be addressed.”
Zafirah Azmy, a sophomore student also from Malaysia, said the risk of a school shooting was on her mind when she chose Peninsula College.
“The reason I chose Peninsula is because it isn’t in the city, so I think it is safer here,” she said, adding many of her peers opted to attend schools in the United Kingdom or Australia instead.
Martinez told the crowd Peninsula College is constantly taking steps to improve the safety of its students.
When asked about the college’s effort to install cameras, Martinez said that though funding has been a barrier, the college is building up its camera system.
The infrastructure is built into Peninsula College’s newer buildings, but most cameras are outdoors.
“Our approach was to start with the exterior of campus and move into the buildings as funding is provided,” he said.
Martinez said the college already has an emergency alert system in place that contacts students and faculty by text message, email and phone when there is an emergency.
“It’s an opt-out system, so as students come to Peninsula College, we automatically put them into the system,” he said. “In the event they don’t want to be in they system, they can opt out.”
Martinez said that because that alert doesn’t automatically go to guests, the college is discussing adding a speaker system that could be used during an emergency.
“One of our vulnerabilities we discovered is how we are dealing with guests who are on the outside of our building,” he said.
Martinez added that he felt schools are walking a “fine line” in preparing students and faculty for a potential school shooting. He wants people to be prepared without having a high level of anxiety.
“To think … of my 6-year-old son with an active shooter in his classroom is different than how I feel on our campus,” he said. “The chances of an active shooter in our community is like the chances of getting hit by lightning, but we don’t want to ignore what is happening in our community.”
Not everyone at the forum was in agreement in how to best protect students. Some suggested arming faculty members, though most who spoke said that was not a good idea.
A man advocating that faculty members should carry guns to protect their students, told the crowd that if “an active shooter came through that door right now … [you will be] praying for that person to be neutralized one way or another.”
Dan Andrews, who also attended the forum, said there are already plenty of gun laws on the books and gun control.
“We as a society have much bigger and deeper problems than gun control,” he said.
Lucas, an English professor, said the idea of arming faculty members isn’t popular at Peninsula College.
“I can tell you right now that most of the faculty that I have talked to about being armed are ready to retire if that happens,” she said.
She said it’s a complicated issue and questioned whether teachers should be paid extra “to take a bullet for their students or be willing to shoot their students.”
Before the debate got much further, Sires interrupted to put the focus back on what students can do to help with the issue.
“I want to redirect this back to what we can do,” she said.
She urged students to raise their concerns and bring ideas to the ASC so that the student council can take action in the interest of the student body.
“We’re going to meet after this to discuss all that we can do from the information we’ve been given in this forum,” she said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].