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'Students need to know our gun history'

This is part one in a two-part series on gun safety at the University of Mississippi and Oxford.


The University of Mississippi has long been considered one of the safest campuses in the country, but with recent shootings at in-state neighbors Mississippi State and Jackson State, some concern has spread across the campus regarding just how safe we are. 

In 2010, the Daily Beast researched nine major criminal incidents and came up with the 50 Safest/Most Dangerous college campuses in the country. The statistics account for the previous three calendar years. 

Ole Miss comes in at No. 29 on the Safest list with two forcible rapes, two aggravated assaults, 40 burglaries and nine car thefts. The university did not have any registered murders, negligent homicides, non-forcible rapes, robberies or arsons. 

Bobby Black, an investigator with UPD, said there have been six recorded shootings on the campus over the last four decades with the earliest incident happening in 1971 and the most recent in 1995.

The incidents ranged from a police officer being shot in a fraternity house in 1975 to a parking officer being shot by her husband in the middle of a nasty divorce in 1988 to a well-known athlete, Alundis Brice, being shot in 1995 trying to break up a fight in the Union. Black said older officers remember a student being killed, but a timeline has been hard to nail down and no records could be found. 

Black said he believes campus safety is a concept that changes from day to day. 

“We hope (the campus is safe), but tomorrow is never guaranteed,” Black said. 

University Police Department Chief Calvin Sellars said he believes students should be aware of their university’s history with gun violence, even if it’s not extensive. 

“One of the most secure places you can be is on this campus,” he said. 

This past August, Mississippi passed into effect a law allowing residents of Mississippi to take a class that, if passed, would allow a person to carry a concealed weapon on campus.

According to the website of Students for Concealed Carry, a national, grassroots organization comprised of students and professors, the incident at Virginia Tech showed that a gunman can cause a lot of harm before campus police can arrive and that it is up to the potential victims to be prepared to defend themselves.

Sellars said he disagrees with students having guns on campus. Though he said anyone who goes through the entire process to get a gun is probably not a real threat. He is scared of the idea of someone with the license trying to play hero in the case of a real emergency. 

“We’re going (to respond) to the sound of gunfire, and our goal is to eliminate that threat,” Sellars said. “If we see a gun in your hand, we’re not going to stop to ask any questions.”

Thirty-four states do not allow guns on college campuses, while 11 others leave it up to the school to decide. Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Mississippi recently passed legislation that allow students and faculty to legally carry a concealed weapon on campus, joining Utah. Several states are debating to amend their laws to allow guns on campuses.

Sellars said there has been an increased awareness for gun safety after several high-profile school shootings, including Virginia Tech in 2007 where a student killed five faculty members and 27 students before committing suicide, and the University of Texas where a student opened fire in the school library before also committing suicide.

“When I first started back in ‘84, (I) never received any training on what to do in a school shooting,” Sellars said. 

The number of gun-related incidents on college campuses continues to rise, according to Security-Magazine.com. Since 2007, there have been 27 major incidents involving guns on college campuses in which someone was either seriously injured or killed.Those 28 incidents, which include the shootings at Mississippi State and Jackson State, have resulted in 67 deaths and 52 injuries. UPD holds an active shooter defense class on campus every so often to inform students and faculty what to do in an emergency situation. 

“We’ve spoken at classes, but we really don’t get many students to participate in it,” Sellars said. “I encourage students to read the emergency information on the website.”

Alfio Zorbino, computer science junior, said he feels safe on campus.

“It’s shocking what happened at JSU and MSU, but in reality those two incidences were situations that had pre-existing issues,” Zorbino said. “They weren’t just random shootings.” 

English senior Tim Summers said he feels safe not just on campus, but in Oxford as well. 

“Yes, I feel safe,” he said. “I lock my doors; I lock my car; I don’t get belligerent. The most common crimes in this town are caused by ourselves.”

For more information about the university’s emergency plan, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/emergency/.