Doubts expressed about arming officers with semiautomatics Members of the University community blasted a University Police proposal to arm officers with semiautomatic weapons at University Council's Safety and Security Committee meeting Friday. But Public Safety Managing Director Thomas Seamon said his proposal presented the only way for the University to escape from the dark ages of police enforcement. Seamon cited a recent Yale University survey of 80 major universities which found that 94 percent of university police forces are equipped with semiautomatic weapons. Boston College, Duke, Indiana State and North Carolina State universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Penn are the only six schools still using revolvers. And of these six, the University is the only institution located in a high-crime urban area. Penn Women's Center Associate Director Gloria Gay spoke out vehemently against Seamon's plan to arm police with semiautomatic weapons. She said the University Police's use of guns will cause the criminals to escalate their guns as well. "Penn has the opportunity to set a different standard," Gay said. "I think it really is overkill. The environment on Penn's campus is different than the city." Seamon also pointed out that Yale, Harvard and Rutgers universities' police forces have had no shootings and no accidental discharges since they have switched to semiautomatic weapons. Temple University is currently in the process of changing to semiautomatic weapons, Seamon added. He also refuted arguments that semiautomatics fire at a much faster rate than revolvers. The two types of guns actually fire at about the same rate, he said. Seamon said that semiautomatics are more accurate than revolvers and would reduce the likelihood of an innocent bystander getting hit in a gunfight. Citing Philadelphia crime statistics for 1994, he said that of 5,700 guns confiscated, more than 2,500 were semiautomatic handguns. One hundred and thirty confiscated guns were semiautomatic rifles, 32 were semiautomatic shotguns, one or two were fully automatic guns, and the others were either shotguns or revolvers. Gay said she thinks the community would react negatively to the police use of semiautomatic weapons. But Seamon said the Philadelphia Police, SEPTA Police and the Philadelphia Housing Authority Police already have semiautomatics. In the face of Seamon's statistics about the percentage of university police forces using semiautomatics, Gay said the University should "take the lead" and set a different course. But Penn Watch President and Wharton junior Jon Brightbill disagreed. "Let someone else take the lead and gamble with students' lives, but not Penn," he said. Brightbill added that many of the arguments presented against semiautomatic weapons were based on emotion, rather than fact. "I'm still waiting for someone to present a concrete argument why they should not have semiautomatic weapons," Brightbill said. Most of the approximately 15 participants at the meeting urged that continued debate must ensue before any decision can be made made. Microbiology Professor Helen Davies suggested that world-renowned Criminology Professor Marvin Wolfgang, Chief Trauma Surgeon William Schwab and some professors in the Law School be involved in the discussion. But Seamon disagreed. "Criminologists and lawyers are not experts in police operations and are not really qualified to discuss the matter," he said. Anesthesia Professor and Operating Room Director Sean Kennedy, who chairs the Safety and Security Committee, said he sees about two or three gunshot victims a week. "It's not terribly academic, it's a fact of life," he said.Comments powered by Disqus
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