Teacher files suit over her handgun

A Medford high school teacher filed suit in Jackson County Circuit Court Tuesday challenging the school district's policy prohibiting employees from carrying concealed weapons on campuses.

Identified only as "Jane Doe," the teacher asserted she has the right to bring her concealed handgun to school to defend herself from a violent ex-husband against whom she has obtained a restraining order.

Drawing national media attention, the case could clear an ambiguity in state law about schools' authority to forbid employees from doing what the public is allowed.

Under state law, permit holders may carry concealed weapons on public school campuses, but most districts have passed policies restricting employees from doing so.

Jim Leuenberger, a Portland-based attorney representing the teacher, said state law bars local governments from restricting possession of firearms by permit holders. That law voids any district policies to the contrary, he said.

Medford district officials argued they have the right to set conditions for employment and must be able to regulate employees' use of weapons on campuses to help keep students safe.

"People are trying to make this into a debate that it isn't," said Medford School Board President Mike Moran. "This is not about the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms). We are defending our right as employers and maintaining student safety."

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said the Legislature needs to clarify the law. She plans to sponsor a bill that would specifically authorize school districts to ban weapons on campuses even by permit holders. She has pitched similar proposals in past sessions since 2001, but all were defeated.

Funded by the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation, the teacher's lawsuit has fueled the debate over the merit of armed teachers in preventing massacres like those at Virginia Tech in April and Columbine High School in Colorado.

Proponents contend teachers with guns could help avert school shootings or reduce death tolls.

"I'm a firm believer in the right to keep and bear arms," Leuenberger said. "The more guns responsible adults have, the less crime there is summarizes my philosophy."

Opponents, including Medford district officials, argue allowing employees to carry weapons might exacerbate a crisis.

"The problem is a (layperson) with a concealed weapon mostly likely isn't trained to use a firearm in a fast-moving, violent and chaotic situation," said Moran, a retired Medford police lieutenant. "There is no tactical firearm training required to get a concealed weapon permit."

If employees carry guns, there is also a risk that the weapons could fall into the hands of students, he said.

Utah is the only state that expressly allows anyone to carry concealed weapons on campuses, while 37 states specifically outlaw guns at schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It's unclear whether the Medford teacher has ever brought a gun on school grounds.

Acting on rumors reported to them, school officials confronted her and reminded her of the district's policy on concealed weapons.

Under district policy, she is subject to discipline for violating the policy, including dismissal.

In a guest opinion printed Sunday in The Oregonian, the teacher wrote that she's seeking the right to carry her Glock pistol to protect against an ex-husband whom she claims has violated restraining orders, hit her and threatened to kill her.

She said her ex-husband is approved as a substitute teacher in the district, making it possible that he could be assigned to work in her school or her daughter's school.

"It is woefully irresponsible to deny the possible risk of violence in public schools," she wrote. "It is shameful to attempt to victimize those who would seek to defend children in our schools, ridiculously inciting fear over teachers' mental competency or proficiency in handling a firearm."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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