Teachers and guns

October 14, 2007 11:00 pm

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

On the one hand, Katz, who has a restraining order against her ex-husband, whom she has accused of threatening to kill her, has a valid reason for wanting to carry her Glock 9 mm pistol. She also has a license to carry the 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 in safely handling guns is considerably more rigorous than the course Katz had to pass to get her concealed handgun license.

Katz has a strong case now that her lawsuit is going to court: Oregon law allows people who have concealed handgun licenses to bring a gun into a public school.

School officials acknowledge that law, yet many districts, including Medford, have policies that prohibit employees from carrying guns on school property.

Legal and policymaking issues aside, the overriding goal in the South Medford 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 and 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. That's why she wants to have the pistol — to protect herself, and in particular to protect herself from her ex-husband.

Katz is 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 who share a building for 40 hours or so each week.

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