Inside a trailer parked in a lot at Cal State Fullerton, students stand with guns drawn, ready to fire.
The students are participating in a test exercise as part of a virtual firearms simulation activity. However, the test exercise is not far from a real life situation faced by a law enforcement official, when a few seconds could mean the difference between life and death. The activity was led by University Police Sgt. Carl Jones.
The simulation, led by Jones aimed to teach the students, many of whom were criminal justice majors, to take stock of a situation and quickly make a decision whether or not they would shoot. It’s a decision with direct parallels in the real world, Jones said.
“(Whatever) decision they make, well that is the decision that they have got to live with—not every scenario is a shoot situation,” Jones said.
In teams of two, the students walked into a large metal trailer where Jones showed them how to load their pistols before a simulation started on a screen in front of them.
Students were then presented with one of multiple simulation options. One of the simulations depicted a woman who brandished a knife but then drops it. Another showed a man choking a woman on a bed. In both instances, it was up to students to determine whether to they would shoot the individual in the simulation.
“You definitely felt the pressure of having to make a decision,” Brook Koontz, 21, a human services major said. “Do I hesitate, do I shoot right now, do I have the gun ready?”
Koontz was one of about 160 total students who participated over the course of the two-day program.
This was the first time this firearms simulator has been on campus. Christie Gardiner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of criminal justice, started the program for her classes, but then opened it up to all students.
“We see a lot of these shootings, especially lately … where we are questioning the officer’s actions and they have a split second to make a decision, a life or death decision,” Gardiner said.
Gardiner wants to expand the program for next school year and possibly work with Associated students to accomplish that.
The students had many different reasons for wanting to participate in the firearms simulator.
Morgan Bell, 20, a criminal justice major, said the simulation gives a real world perspective to what she is learning in a police class.
Another criminal justice major, Matt McCarville, 22, who plans to go to law school said he has not had many positive interactions with the police, but found Jones, the officer leading the program, to be very polite and informative.
His partner for the simulation, criminal justice major, Kelly Nguyen, 19, said she wanted to experience what it is like to hold a gun because she wants to be a police officer.
Gardiner said she believes the program is important because it allows students to see what officers put themselves through, she said.