Rochester, MI – In preparation for a possible active shooter incident, the gun-free zone of Oakland University has begun arming students and faculty with hockey pucks.
“We thought, ‘Yeah, that is something we can do,’” American Association of University Professors President Tom Discenna told The Detroit News. “We can make these available at least to our members and a fair number of students as well.”
The idea was born during a training session Oakland University Police Chief Mark Gordon was conducting with faculty earlier this year.
When one of the attendees asked what they could do to protect themselves on the gun-free campus, Chief Gordon recalled an occasion when he was hit in the head with a puck while coaching hockey.
“[It] caused a fair amount of damage to me,” he told the crowd, according to The Detroit News.
Although he did not specifically intend for the off-hand memory to morph into a defense plan, faculty members ran with the idea.
"It was not a well-thought-out strategy," Chief Gordon told the news outlet during a telephone interview on Tuesday. "It was a spur-of-the-moment-thing that had merit to it and kind of caught on."
The university faculty union has purchased $2,500 worth of 94-cent pucks thus far, Discenna said.
Each one is emblazoned with the union’s logo, and have been distributed free-of-charge to 800 faculty members since Nov. 9.
Another 1,700 pucks will soon be passed out to students, and Oakland University’s student congress has also promised to kick in an additional 1,000 pucks.
Chief Gordon said that the effectiveness of using hockey pucks to combat an active shooter has not been researched, but that throwing any item of weight at an attacker could be beneficial.
"It’s just the idea of having something, a reminder that you’re not powerless and you’re not helpless in the classroom," Discenna told the Detroit Free Press.
According to Chief Gordon, dozens of students armed with pucks or other heavy objects could hurl their makeshift weapons at an armed attacker simultaneously instead of “freezing in place,” The Detroit News reported.
The group could also “rush” the gunman with their pucks in order to create a distraction that would allow someone to disarm the attacker, Chief Gordon told National Public Radio.
The effectiveness of throwing lead at the suspect, instead of hockey pucks, was not discussed
Training sessions are currently being conducted on campus to teach faculty members how to use the pucks against a potential attacker – but only as a last resort, The Detroit News reported.
Ideally, students and faculty are encouraged to run away, hide, then to fight only if no other options are available.
“My first reaction was, ‘You are talking about facing an assault weapon and asking us to fight back with hockey pucks?’ It sounded silly," Oakland University Journalism Director Garry Gilbert said.
“Then I went through the training session, and it all made sense. None of us want to face an armed assailant. Students will look to us for leadership in a situation like that,” Gilbert said.
As part of the program, faculty members practiced by hurling Nerf balls at a fake gunman.
“Chief Gordon has shown us you can surprise or disarm an assailant with an object. Grab anything you’ve got… and be prepared and charge him," he explained. "Maybe he can be distracted by having things thrown at him, and you can limit injuries and loss of life. It won me over.”
But not everyone on campus agreed that the plan was such a great idea.
“I find it…absurd,” student Adam Kalajian told WXYZ with a look of bewilderment. “What good will it do? If there’s an armed person coming in, why would you chuck a puck at them?”
Oakland University Senior Jacob Gora agreed.
“If I was to give you a puck and I had a gun, would I be able to take you out?” Gora asked with a laugh. “Easily. Yeah. I mean, a puck’s not gonna distract me or stop me from shooting someone.”
The union is also using the pucks as part of a fundraising campaign to provide interior door locks for classrooms throughout campus, The Detroit News reported.
"We know locking the classroom, in and of itself, is a big deterrent" to keep active shooters away, Chief Gordon told the Detroit Free Press.
Back in March, Pennsylvania lawmakers heard a similar proposal from Blue Mountain School District Superintendent Dr. David Helsel, who advocated arming each classroom in his district with a five-gallon bucket of river rocks.
“If an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance to any of our classrooms, they will face a classroom full of students armed with rocks, and they will be stoned,” Helsel told the state legislature at the time, according to KTVI.
Helsel credited himself for having realized the potential of using stones against school shooters.
“At one time I just had the idea of river stone,” Helsel said. “They're the right size for hands, you can throw them very hard and they will create or cause pain, which can distract.”
Students seemed to like the idea of rocks.
“Anything helps,” one student told KTVI. “Rocks are better than books and pencils.”
While some parents endorsed the idea, others weren’t convinced, and would still like to see the faculty armed.
“It’s absurd. Arm the teachers,” one parent told the news outlet.
According to Helsel, Blue Mountain School District had no intention of arming teachers, but the district does have a single maintenance employee who is armed and trained to work school security.
Additional support staff may also be trained to act as security, he said.