[CORRECTION: 4 p.m. 11/05/14
The original title “UPD Stocked with Automatic Rifles; Students, Chief Weigh In” is incorrect. The rifles acquired through the Department of Defense Excess Property Program (1033 Program) were semi-automatic, not automatic.]
Monica Dore, News Editor
An article recently published in Oneonta’s Daily Star revealed to many unknowing students and faculty that SUNY Oneonta is in possession of three military surplus M-14 rifles and an unarmored Humvee from the Pentagon. Although the weaponry was obtained by the college in 2011, information did not really become public knowledge until mid-October, when a report was released in response to a request from the Freedom of Information Law.
The weaponry was obtained by the request through the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, also known as the 1033 Program. This program has supplied surplus weaponry to various campuses throughout the country including SUNY Old Westbury and SUNY Morrisville. In an especially controversial decision, the program supplied weapons to the police force of Ferguson, Missouri following the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting.
SUNY Oneonta requested and received an unarmored black Humvee, which was painted to look more like a police vehicle than a military vehicle. UPD Chief of Police Daniel Chambers says that the Daily Star sensationalized the Humvee, saying that it really is not as threatening as photos make it out to be. The front part of the vehicle is metal, but in the back it is a canvas material. To UPD, the benefit of adding a Humvee to the police fleet was simply that a high-axle vehicle would help students and community members to face the elements.
“We were looking for something that could go through snow drifts and standing water,” said Chambers. And with two destructive floods in the region in the last 10 years, the Humvee seemed to UPD to be practical for students, as well as community members who are threatened by the elements.
SUNY Oneonta also requested 13 or 14 M-14s through the 1033 Program, but only received three. The three M-14s that SUNY Oneonta owns have not been taken out of their safe unless to be used in a ceremony, Lieutenant William Baker of UPD reported to The Daily Star. The last time that the semi-automatic rifles were used was for an on-campus 9/11 ceremony.
M-14s, as well as AR-15s that UPD also has in possession, may be used in the case of an active shooter incident. AR-15s have the potential to accurately shoot up to 600 meters away. UPD believes this is an important tool to have in case of an on-campus threat. In the past year there have been nearly 30 shootings on or near college campuses, and less than two weeks ago SUNY Canton went into lockdown when challenged by an anonymous threat on the popular social media site Yik Yak. Although the alleged poster has been arrested, these incidences are part of the reason that UPD has these resources available.
“You can’t say it won’t happen here. So you need to be able to fight fire with fire, or with even bigger fire,” said Chief Chambers.
Chambers wants to reassure the SUNY population that these rifles are just tools meant to protect the student body. Still, some community members remain concerned about their place on campus.
SUNY Oneonta professor Dr. Robert Compton of the Africana and Latino Studies and Political Science departments, said, “The Pentagon weapons’ program is an example of how the national security state’s tentacles reach out to locales like SUNY Oneonta. It is highly disturbing given the past relationship between police and community, right here that SUCO would participate in such a program without any prior public announcement. ” Dr. Compton added, “ As a social scientist trained as a political scientist institutionalized in the ALS department, I am beyond disappointed but not surprised. In the ALS department we deal with these kinds of issues daily and try to construct positive bridges with law enforcement and these kinds of things make it difficult. We should be interrogating the military prison industrial complex rather than feed at its largesse which perpetuates it.”
SUNY Oneonta Senior Shannon Donahue stated, “For me, it seems a little odd that the government is giving away [semi-]automated weapons to New York State schools at a time when the New York State government is also trying to prevent citizens from obtaining them. In my eyes, their hypocrisy raises questions about gun control in the area and questions about the intention/benefit of supplying a school that has infrequent to no incidence of serious crime with assault weapons.”
Although Chambers admitted that he could understand why students may worry, he insisted that these are tools that can only help the population. All UPD officers are prepared to use the rifles when needed, and each officer must complete firearm training twice each year.
“With active shooters,” said Chambers, “We’re paid to win. And if we’re aggressive, we save lives.” Later, he added, “If we can’t do it right, there is a big cost.”