Students at Southern Oregon University expressed shock Wednesday after a state appeals court ruled that the Oregon University System can't ban guns on campus.
SOU officials declined to comment on the ruling, which said only the state Legislature is empowered to regulate possession of firearms — but they added they would put new rules in place when they get them from the chancellor of higher education.
Students, however, had plenty of comments. "I don't understand why anyone needs to bring guns on campus when there isn't any threat," said Reanna Culjat, an elementary education sophomore. "The administration should ban them. It makes me feel unsafe. Anyone bringing a gun here should have a background check and register it with the school."
Siding with the plaintiff, the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation of Canby, the appeals court said a 1991 administrative rule by the university system is invalid. The OUS rule said the system may impose sanctions against "any person" for possession and use of firearms on its property, but the court ruled that the higher education system was not authorized by the Legislature to regulate firearms.
Kevin Starrett, executive director of the Firearms Educational Foundation, described the gun ban as "emblematic of all the bureaucrats across the state who just spit in the face of the law and make up their own rules, and in doing that cause great damage to people who are doing nothing wrong."
Having just received the decision hours earlier, OUS was in the process of studying a range of options that would use whatever authority over guns it had to keep campuses safe, said Di Saunders, spokeswoman for the chancellor of higher education.
"We're working with our legal counsel on the implications of the ruling," she said, noting OUS's authority to regulate staff and students through contracts of employment, student rules of conduct and rules about behavior on university property.
"We're making sure we're protecting students and faculty. We do have the right to determine what happens on our property."
If anyone came on campus with a weapon, security officials would confront the person about why they have the weapon, Sanders said, adding that if the person was "brandishing it in a threatening way or didn't have a (concealed weapons) permit, they would call city police.
"If it's visible and is scaring faculty and students, security would check it out. (The ruling) doesn't open it up for everyone to come on campus with a weapon," she said.
Following several campus shootings across the country, security teams at SOU and the six other state campuses established emergency response systems to deal with weapon threats and alert all faculty and students via phone or email. These systems, Saunders said in a news release, "will continue to be in place."
Becky Tyler, an SOU senior in education and American Indian studies, said: "I don't think guns should be on campus. It makes me feel uneasy and creates an atmosphere of fear. If I got an alert, I would run for my car."
Taylor Lore, a senior in economics, said he respects people's right to carry and conceal weapons, but added, "I'm not very excited about the ruling."
"A classroom is no place for firearms," Lore said, "but if someone goes to the effort of getting a permit, they're probably not a loose cannon."
Not all students were opposed to the decision. Asked for her reaction, sophomore Sarah Vonwood said, "cool," although she added there must be limits.
"It's OK, I think, to carry your weapon of choice," she said, "but it definitely needs more regulation."
The three-judge appeals court cited a 1995 law that only the Legislature can regulate firearm possession, which was intended to prevent cities from creating gun bans. OUS is an arm of state government and not a municipality but still should fall under that law, the court decided.
The case came from sanctions in 2009 against a gun-carrying student at Western Oregon University. The school used the authority from a 20-year old administrative rule, but the judges said OUS's rule-making powers were pre-empted by a later state law giving the Legislature sole power to regulate guns.
The judges found that "this particular rule would seem on its face to be the type of regulation that was intended to be pre-empted" by the state law.
In 2004, SOU was in the news over banning guns on campus when conservative radio talk show host Lars Larson was uninvited from a First Amendment Forum after he said he would not comply with a university request that he not bring a gun on campus. Larson had a concealed weapons permit and said the university was abridging his Second Amendment rights by not permitting him to carry a gun.
The Legislature this year considered banning guns on all state campuses, but the proposal didn't advance.
"Our greatest concern is for the safety of our students and the entire campus community," Chancellor George Pernsteiner said. OUS will review its legal options, he said in a news release.
"It's doubtful the Legislature's going to act any time soon — given a split House and very close Senate — on anything controversial to do with guns," state Rep. Buckley, D-Ashland, said late Wednesday.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.