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College arms staff with hockey pucks to fight active shooters

Police Chief Mark Gordon suggested professors throw pucks to protect themselves in the event of a shooting on the weapons-free campus

By Ann Zaniewski
Detroit Free Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — To prepare for an active shooter, faculty and students at Oakland University are arming themselves — with hockey pucks.

The idea of using the quirky self-defense tool grew out of a training session Police Chief Mark Gordon led in March for faculty members on what they should do if a gunman enters their classroom.

A participant asked what people could bring to campus to be better prepared in case they need to fight back. The university has a no-weapons policy.

Gordon’s advice? Be ready to throw something — anything — that could distract a shooter, even a hockey puck, as a last resort if fleeing or hiding aren’t an option.

“It was just kind of a spur-of-the-moment idea that seemed to have some merit to it and it kind of caught on,” Gordon said.

Following up on the suggestion, Tom Discenna, a professor of communication and president of the faculty union, spearheaded an effort by the union to purchase 2,500, 94-cent hockey pucks — 800 for union members and another 1,700 for students. Distribution of the pucks on campus began earlier this month.

“It’s just the idea of having something, a reminder that you’re not powerless and you’re not helpless in the classroom,” Discenna said.

The little black discs have a dual purpose: They are also part of a campaign to raise funds to install interior locks on classroom doors. Some doors are only lockable from the hallway.

The pucks are imprinted with a number that people can enter on the university’s website to donate money toward the new locks.

“We know locking the classroom, in and of itself, is a big deterrent” to a shooter being able to enter the room, Gordon said.

The American Association of University Professors union has donated $5,000 toward new inside locks for the 37 classrooms in South Foundation Hall. The student government, Oakland University Student Congress, has made a donation in the same amount for new locks in an as-yet-to-be-determined building.

The student congress also recently ordered 1,000 hockey pucks that it intends to distribute to students.

Gordon said the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech inspired Oakland University’s efforts to help students, faculty and staff prepare for a possible active shooter and how to defend themselves. At Virginia Tech, a 23-year-old student went on a shooting spree that left 32 people dead before he killed himself.

Gordon said his experience as a youth hockey coach — he once got hit in the head with a puck — gave him the idea that pucks could be a possible self-defense tool.

He said there are no studies or research on using pucks in active shooter situations. They are simply part of a defense posture, he said, such as throwing a stapler, a laptop, “or anything that has weight” and could hurt and distract a shooter so he or she could be disarmed.

“Anything that you can throw that’s heavy and will cause damage, cause injury is the bottom line of what you’re trying to do,” he said. "(A hockey puck) was just a thing that was suggested that could possibly work, especially when you have 20 or 30 people in a classroom and they all throw hockey pucks at the same time, it would be quite the distraction.”

Gordon stressed that the university’s active shooter training sessions, which are held several times a year, focus on fleeing first and then, if that’s not possible, hiding. Fighting back by throwing a hockey puck or through other means should be “an absolute last strategy.”

Student body vice-president Brittany Kleinschmidt, a junior, said the pucks are raising awareness about the need for the new door locks and generating a lot of buzz on campus.

“It gets people talking,” she said.