Give authority to school boards

There are a couple of good reasons for the Oregon Legislature to support a Medford School District proposal that would allow local school boards to decide if guns may be brought on their campuses.

First and foremost, we don't believe guns should be allowed on school grounds unless carried by law enforcement officers. Second, this is an issue of local control and what could be of more local interest than the safety of children in local schools?

Oregon law appears to deny school districts that option, saying that local governments shall not create any ordinance regulating or restricting firearms. The law came out of a legislative compromise accompanying a gun registration bill, a compromise that also said concealed weapons permit holders may take their weapons into public buildings.

The gun law was at the center of a recent Jackson County Circuit Court case, in which Judge G. Philip Arnold ruled that Medford teacher Shirley Katz may not bring her gun to school. Arnold ruled that the school district's prohibition on employees carrying guns was not an ordinance, but rather an employment policy that Katz had agreed to follow when she was hired.

Last week, the Medford School Board approved a resolution asking the Oregon Legislature to enact a law clarifying school districts' authority to keep all but police officers' guns off their campuses. Members of the board and other educators and citizens around the state said the Katz case alerted them to the fact that school boards may not have the final say on whether guns could be brought to schools.

Many gun-rights advocates will say that's as it should be and contend that any restriction is an unlawful infringement on their rights to carry a weapon. But courts have routinely upheld restrictions based on time, place and manner. You can't take a gun, concealed or otherwise, into a state courtroom. You can't take a gun into a federal building — ditto for an airline. You can't take a gun into a shopping mall and wave it about. In short, the Second Amendment right to carry a gun is not absolute, just as the First Amendment does not give you the right to say anything you want, anytime or anywhere.

The Oregon Legislature has tried to take up the issue of guns in schools before, but always faded in the face of opposition from the gun lobby. It remains doubtful that members would muster the courage to pass a law prohibiting guns from school buildings, but perhaps it is not too much for them to allow local school boards to make the decision.

There is ample debate over whether permitting guns in school would make campuses safer or more dangerous. Some say allowing teachers and others to carry guns in school would provide a quick response to a Columbine-like attack. But there is no evidence to support that, nor is there data to help determine what the chances would be of more, rather than fewer, gun incidents if guns in schools became the norm.

Different communities may have very different views on the wisdom of allowing guns in their school buildings. But any community and any school board that wants to hold that debate should be allowed to do so and the Legislature should take action to make that possible.

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