Gun loophole should be closed

A Medford high school teacher's challenge to school district policy barring guns on campus has highlighted a troubling loophole in state law that demands a legislative solution.

The teacher reportedly is afraid of her ex-husband, whom she has served with a restraining order. After district officials reminded the teacher of district policy and told her not to bring a gun to school, she contacted the Oregon Firearms Federation and a Portland attorney, who says he will ask a Jackson County judge to declare the district's policy illegal. He says state law specifically declares that only the Legislature has the power to regulate firearms.

He's right. But another state law — enacted by the Legislature — also makes it a class C felony to carry a firearm or other dangerous weapon on public or private school grounds.

Case closed? Not quite. The same law — Oregon Revised Statute 166.370 — exempts on-duty police officers, military personnel — and anyone licensed to carry a concealed handgun. In Jackson County, that's about 10,000 people.

And that's the legal barrier to what many would consider a common-sense proposition: that guns don't belong in schools.

To gun activists, of course, any restriction on an individual's right to carry a gun anywhere is anathema. Law-abiding people trained in gun safety threaten no one, they insist, except, of course, criminals and others up to no good. A single person with a gun could have saved lives at Columbine or Thurston high schools, they say.

Sure, it could have happened that way — if the person were in the right place, at the right time, with the presence of mind and the shooting skill to bring down another human being while being fired upon.

The fact is, school shootings are still exceedingly rare, compared with the millions of schoolchildren who attend class safely every day. Do we want loaded guns in their classrooms?

The chances of an accidental shooting — or a gun making its way into the wrong hands, with tragic consequences — are far greater than the chances of an intruder bent on mayhem. And let's not forget — this isn't just about teachers. If the loophole remains, any person with a concealed handgun license could bring their gun to the next football game or parent-teacher conference. Is that a good thing?

Then there is the constitutional question. Article I, Section 27 of the Oregon Constitution says, "The people shall have the right to bear arms for the defence of themselves, and the State, but the Military shall be kept in strict subordination to the civil power."

Absolutists would argue that this language trumps all restrictions.

And yet, there are many people to whom this does not apply: convicted felons and the mentally ill, for instance. And there are places where it is illegal to carry a gun. Airports, for one. Courtrooms, for another.

Why not schools? Because the Legislature saw fit to allow anyone with a concealed handgun license to carry a gun in a school.

The Legislature should close that loophole, and soon.

In the meantime, there is the question of the Medford teacher's situation and what risks it may pose to students, regardless of whether she is armed.

If she is so afraid of her former husband that she feels the need to carry a gun at school, what threat might he pose to her students? Parents would be justified in asking that question, and school officials should be prepared to answer it.

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