Safety should be the bottom line

The case of Shirley Katz, the South Medford High School teacher who sued the school district over its policy prohibiting employees from carrying guns on school grounds, presents quite a conundrum.

On the one hand, Katz, who filed a restraining order against her ex-husband, has a valid reason for wanting to carry her Glock 9 mm pistol. On the other hand, the parents of each of the 1,850 or so students who attend South Medford have a valid reason to expect that the only people wielding guns at the school are police officers, whose training is considerably more rigorous than the course Katz had to pass to get her concealed handgun license.

Katz has a strong case: Oregon law allows people with concealed handgun licenses to bring a gun into a public school. School officials acknowledge that law, yet many districts, including Medford, prohibit employees from carrying guns on school property.

Legal and policymaking issues aside, the overriding goal in this case should be to ensure that every person who enters the school is as safe as possible. Or, to state the matter more succinctly: Are South Medford employees, students and visitors more safe, or less safe, if Katz is carrying her Glock?

We think they're less safe.

Katz, of course, contends that she, at least, is more safe. She's right, but only in theory. In certain situations that Glock could save her life. But in other situations — say her ex-husband catches her off-guard but he doesn't have a weapon — the mere presence of that gun could put her in greater danger.

But not only her.

It's hardly inconceivable that a person who would try to hurt Katz, or anyone else in her school, would have a gun. But what if Katz has her gun, too? A pair of guns isn't inherently more dangerous than a single gun, of course. But it's equally true that a situation in which, say, 30 bullets could be fired presents a greater hazard to every person within range than does a situation in which no more than 10 bullets could be fired.

The bottom line is that school officials shouldn't, in order to theoretically reduce the risk to one teacher, theoretically increase the risk to some 2,000 other people. We hope the Katz case results in a legal precedent that gives Oregon school districts the right to prohibit people, except sworn law enforcement officers, from carrying guns on school property.

We also hope school officials can convince Katz that South Medford is a place where she doesn't need to have her Glock to stay safe.

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